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
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
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

    Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

    Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

    Early Years Educator

    £68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

    Nursery Nurse

    £69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

    Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam