Police to put a stop to a wildlife of crime

Matthew Brace investigates the lucrative traffic in stolen animals

A worrying escalation in wildlife crime, linked to the vast international trafficking of endangered species, has created a new squad of policemen - the wildlife men.

Once animal crime was seen as soft policing, carried out by officers with photos of cuddly tigers and brightly coloured parrots adorning their desks.

Now the growing rate of animal and bird crime means that almost every one of the 43 constabularies in England and Wales has a wildlife squad. Each squad usually consists of one or two officers, working closely with RSPCA inspectors.

Creation of the squads embodies the new get-tough approach to this area of crime, which includes stiffer jail terms for those convicted of stealing, injuring and killing animals for lucrative gains. Other offences against animals start off as pranks: last week an 18-year-old student was sent to a young offender's institution for 90 days for cooking a hedgehog in a microwave oven during a drunken college prank.

According to John Hayward, a former detective and wildlife liaison officer and now the National Theft Co-ordinator for the Federation of Zoos, badgers are one of the main targets of criminals. As many as 10,000 badgers are killed each year by baiters staging clandestine pit fights under the cover of darkness between badger and dog and running an alfresco betting shop for punters.

Egg and bird thefts are running high as the demand for rare species increases. The rarer the species the higher the price: a golden eagle can fetch pounds 10,000. At the other end of the scale, people trap garden finches to sell to pet shops for loose change.

Many stolen animals and birds are smuggled out of the country to unscrupulous overseas collectors, fuelling the international trafficking in endangered species which is the second most lucrative illegal trade in the world after narcotics. Its turnover is greater than those of firearms and counterfeit money.

PC Paul Beecroft, wildlife officer for the Reading area of the Thames Valley force, has seen the trade in stolen wildlife in Britain soar. The number of birds of prey stolen each year has more than doubled in the past 10 years. The previous Conservative government did little to help these figures when, in May 1994, it took several birds off the list of endangered species that required owners to register and ring them.

"There was a 200 per cent increase in thefts that year alone," says PC Beecroft. "I don't think there is another crime in this country that has risen so quickly." Not all collectors are crooks, he adds, but most are so secretive it is hard to know if their collection methods are legitimate.

He works closely with Mick Brewer, deputy chief constable for the Warwickshire force, who is also the wildlife advisor to the Association of Chief Police Officers and joint chairman of the Government-led task force Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW).

Through PAW, the fight against wildlife crime has stepped up a gear. In the past year, police have been employing DNA techniques to prove or disprove relationships between young birds advertised for sale as having been born and bred in captivity, and their supposed parents.

At present the fines for wildlife criminals are stiff. A farmer in PC Beecroft's area was fined pounds 14,500 for several offences including poisoning red kites.

DCC Mick Brewer said the total number of wildlife crimes is impossible to gauge because so few are recorded. The statistical criteria laid down by the Home Office are so complicated that they fail to qualify.

News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

    £120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

    Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

    £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

    £24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness