Police in Chinatown seize grisly haul of endangered species

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A large and grisly collection of body parts from endangered animals has been seized by police in a raid on a traditional Chinese medicine shop in London, showing that the outlawed trade is continuing.

A large and grisly collection of body parts from endangered animals has been seized by police in a raid on a traditional Chinese medicine shop in London, showing that the outlawed trade is continuing.

About 300 parts of animals, ranging from bears and musk deer to wild asses, monkeys, sea-horses and turtles, were found in the shop in Wardour Street in Soho, which is part of London's Chinatown.

Several species of plant, also believed to be endangered in the wild, were also seized, and all the specimens are currently being analysed.

The raid was part of Operation Charm, Scotland Yard's initiative against the illegal trade in endangered species in London. Since its launch in 1995, Operation Charm has been responsible for the seizure of more than 25,000 items made from endangered species. Many of these have been traditional Chinese remedies, but other seizures have included shahtoosh shawls (made from the wool of the critically endangered Chiru antelope of Tibet and western China), ivory and taxidermy.

The police have tried to keep the support of the Chinese community – the raid on the shop was carried out by officers from the Yard's community-based Chinatown Unit, as well as from the Wildlife Crime Unit. The search warrant was issued under the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997, which make it illegal to sell, keep for sale or buy any item that claims to be made from an endangered species. The owner of the shop is being interviewed with a view to possible prosecution.

Chinese medicine has used animal parts for thousands of years but its impact on wildlife has increased as its popularity has spread. Some estimates put the number of traditional Chinese remedy shops in London at more than 1,000. Soaring demand and rising prices have fuelled poaching, often, in the case of species such as tigers, bears and rhinos, just as habitat loss is putting the wild animals under pressure in their home ranges.

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