Record number of smuggled animal products seized by border officials

Grant Miller from the Border Force CITIES team with some of this year's illegal loot. Credit: PA Wire.

Hippo teeth, walrus horns, tortoises and big cats are among some of the endangered animal items being smuggled into the country, border officials said.

The Home Office has revealed that more items were confiscated between April 2012 and April 2013 than in any other year.

Other items confiscated include rhino horns, shawls made of Tibetan antelope wool, books bound in elephant skin, a Rolls Royce upholstered in alligator skin, artwork featuring a rare rock pigeon clutched between the jaws of a human skull, eight live big cats and 466 Hermann's tortoises. In total 690 items were seized:

  • 3,890kg of medicine containing extracts of endangered species

  • 326 ivory items

  • 93 live animals

Items are confiscated at the border under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) and kept in a secret warehouse awaiting expert evaluation.

Border officials seized 690 items this year - up from 509 on the previous year. Credit: PA Wire.

Grant Miller, senior officer on the Border Force CITIES team said the market was evolving, and demand was growing.

We have everything from rhino horn to ivory to the taxidermy items and marine species that we see being brought back into the UK, both in passengers' luggage - but more importantly, and in large quantities, through freight.

The animal products are being kept in a warehouse in a secret location awaiting evaluation. Credit: PA Wire.

Many of the products confiscated are from the beauty and fitness industries, were endangered species once used only in folk medicines are being sold in bodybuilding supplements and facial creams. Mr Miller explained:

From the traditional Chinese medicine products that we used to see we're now seeing new age beauty products, the health and fitness slimming pills, that are having endangered species within their ingredients.

This year 500kg of face cream containing caviar extract were discovered being imported from China, while 126,000 pots of "Detonate" and 15,120 of "CRAZE" - bodybuilding supplements containing the rare orchid Dendrobium - were seized en route from the USA.

This year some of the major items have been seized through freight. Credit: PA Wire.

Britain's position as a global logistics hub means that many goods come through UK borders.

Immigration minister Mark Harper said the illicit products can be worth millions on the black market, which is why stamping down on trafficking is one part of working internationally to stop the trading in endangered animals.

Organised criminal gangs will smuggle anything if they think there is a profit to be made and animal products can be worth millions of pounds on the black market. The fact that this trade is contributing to the threat of extinction faced by many endangered species is of no interest to these ruthless traffickers.