Partner spotlight: UK Border Force, clear leadership in the fight against wildlife crime
Last week I had the welcomed opportunity to see first-hand the valuable work being done in the UK to tackle wildlife crime.
On arriving at the UK Border Force’s wildlife crime unit at Heathrow Airport I was delighted to be met by a pair of sniffer dogs that not only identify drugs and other illegal substances but who have also been trained to find wildlife products, including ivory.
Sniffer dogs are increasingly playing a more prominent role in the fight against wildlife crime as often products are concealed by smugglers in an attempt to avoid detection. I was very interested to learn that one of the dogs is from a rescue shelter and now lives a happy and fulfilled life while assisting in the battle against illegal wildlife trade at very little cost to the taxpayer.
Grant Miller and Guy Clarke from UK Border Force were at the entrance to the Heathrow wildlife crime unit standing shoulder to shoulder with Chief Constable Simon Prince, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Lead on Wildlife Crime.
It is very encouraging to see that British enforcers have established an effective way of working across departments; from police through to customs. In partnership with other organisations such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), together we are working to ensure that we have a clear, coordinated and well communicated strategy which ultimately means the UK can punch above its weight and catch more wildlife criminals.
As someone who years ago saw the need for more robust enforcement of wildlife crime and therefore helped to develop IFAW’s wildlife crime training programme, I was very pleased to hear that UK Border Force has been ‘exporting its border’ by training enforcement representatives in 28 different countries.
It is clear to me that UK Border Force is a global leader when it comes to tackling wildlife crime.
It is leading by example, destroying all seized ivory on an ongoing basis thus making it clear that illegal ivory has no value in Britain. Border Force also ensures that legal traders in wildlife adhere to high standards when shipping live animals – if the welfare needs of these animals are not met their paperwork becomes invalid and the animals are confiscated.
This provides a strong incentive for traders to ensure they look after their animals. Would-be criminals should be aware that the UK’s Customs & Excise Management Act means that their prohibited goods can be seized at the borders while they also run the risk of being sentenced to up to seven years in prison, or receiving an unlimited fine and in some cases both.
Sadly many of the confiscated animals are not returned to the wild because of the risk that they will re-enter the illegal trade or will expose other animals to new diseases acquired during transport. However I was very pleased to learn that Border Force recently reintroduced 12 critically endangered iguanas to the Bahamas following the prosecution of two Romanian nationals. This was made possible as the Bahamian government committed to ensuring their future protection. I would really welcome more countries adopting this approach.
This visit also provided me with the opportunity to acknowledge the progress made by Chief Constable Prince in ensuring that wildlife crime is taken seriously within British borders by both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. All in all I was hugely impressed by the work being done here and hope that it will continue to serve as an example of best practice to enforcers across the world and deter criminals from profiting from animal suffering.
For more information on IFAW efforts to stop wildlife crime, visit our campaign page.