London's wildlife crime unit saved from the axe

Friday, February 8, 2008
London, United Kingdom
The Metropolitan Police has responded to public pressure and reversed a decision to make cuts to London’s Wildlife Crime Unit.
In March the Metropolitan Police confirmed that they were intending to cut core funding for two of the four posts within the wildlife crime unit due to police budget constraints. However, after receiving 6,000 letters and emails from members of the public urging them not to make the cuts, the Met has reversed the decision.
 
WWF, IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare - www.ifaw.org), ACAP (Active Conservation Awareness Programme) and the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation also wrote to and met with the then Met Assistant Commissioner, Stephen House, to urge him to fully fund the department in the long term rather than relying on sourcing external funds.  These NGOs work with the Met Wildlife Crime Unit and the GLA in a partnership called Operation Charm, combating the illegal trade in endangered species.
 
Heather Sohl, species and trade officer at WWF, said: “We’re delighted that the Met Police has made this decision and we thank the many thousands of people who have helped make this happen by writing with their concerns. Combating wildlife crime is an important part of police work in London, not least because of its links to drugs and organised crime, which is why a dedicated and effective unit is so vital.  It is no good just arresting criminals after the fact - prevention is so important when illegal trade could lead to the extinction of some of the world’s most endangered species.” 
 
The Met had planned for two police officers to continue to be funded from the police’s budget but two other posts would only have been funded until March 2008. As well as prosecuting wildlife criminals, the full unit is able to raise public awareness, train borough police officers, and work with national and international groups to combat wildlife crime. Goods which have been seized by the Wildlife Crime Unit include items made from endangered species such as tigers, rhinos, bears, elephants, reptiles and musk deer.
 
Robbie Marsland, Director of IFAW UK, said: “IFAW welcomes the decision to save London's Wildlife Crime Unit. The unit provides innovative measures and essential enforcement against illegal wildlife trade.
 
“Its job is of vital importance in combating the illegal trade in endangered species in the Capital. The work conducted by the unit also has a positive effect in other parts of the world where many of these
animals or their parts originate from, as the unit's efforts send a strong message to criminals that illegal wildlife trade will not be tolerated.”
 
The potential budget shortfall for the Wildlife Crime Unit – which has successfully seized over 30,000 endangered species products illegally traded in London in the past 10 years - was £80,000 a year, a drop in the ocean compared to the overall Metropolitan Police Authority budget of £2.5 billion.

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