Joining Home Office Minister for UK Border Force wildlife crime unit visit

The good news is that wildlife crime is being taken seriously by the UK Home Office Minister and Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament, Norman Baker.Wildlife crime is a serious issue that sees thousands of animals being killed and their body parts sold as commodities.

It also involves the capture and smuggling of wild animals in horrific conditions to supply the exotic pet trade. This illegal activity is estimated to be worth £11.6 billion per year and causes the suffering of entire communities in wildlife range states as their safety is compromised by illegal wildlife poaching.

The good news is that this issue is being taken seriously by the UK Home Office Minister and Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament, Norman Baker.

The Independent: Stuck at Heathrow: the live animal cargo smuggled into Britain

I had the opportunity to join him on his tour of the UK Border Force CITES Unit last week. CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and the Unit is responsible for catching people who seek to profit from the illegal trade in wildlife and their products.

The UK Border Force CITES Unit is made up of a world class team of enforcers lead by Grant Miller. They are all extremely committed to finding smugglers and ensuring that robust prosecutions serve as an effective deterrent to those individuals who want to make money from animal suffering.

The Minister and I were shown confiscated items including ivory and rhino horn shavings that had been seized along with pangolin scales in a shipment from Nigeria which was caught in transit on its way to Hong Kong. It’s believed that this was being sent by a Chinese national living in Africa and sadly this type of case is not a one off with more and more Chinese nationals in Africa being implicated in the couriering of wildlife products back to their homeland. DNA testing of the rhino horn will enable Border Force to know how many animals were killed as each shaving could potentially be from a different rhino. The DNA databases can now tell the story of individual rhinos from the cradle to the grave and ensure that these traffickers receive a sentence that reflects the serious nature of their crime as rhinos are critically endangered.

Minister Baker and I were then taken to the Animal Reception Centre (ARC) where we saw the live animals that had been seized from smugglers. The animals we saw included chameleons, snakes, monitor lizards, birds and tortoises and only recently Border Force had repatriated twelve critically endangered iguanas to their native Bahamas. It was very encouraging to see that the Minister was clearly interested in the welfare of the animals in the care of the ARC.

The visit ended with us meeting the sniffer dogs which are trained not only to find drugs but also wildlife products such as ivory. Criminals will go to incredible lengths to disguise their wildlife products in order to avoid detection so having dogs use their keen sense of smell to unearth these items is a real asset, and of course as a keen animal lover it was lovely to meet them.

I left the Unit feeling very heartened to know that there is such an excellent team of people working to stop wildlife traffickers profiting from animal exploitation and it is extremely encouraging to see that Norman Baker’s long standing commitment to conservation and animal welfare is informing his job as the Home Office Minister responsible for tackling wildlife crime.

I have every faith that his commitment to this issue will ensure the UK continues to be at the forefront of the fight against wildlife crime.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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