Animal smuggling is the most lucrative crime after drugs

THE illegal trafficking of exotic and endangered species is now the biggest international criminal activity after the drugs trade, according to Interpol.

A senior officer said yesterday that the growing illicit market for rare animals and plants was worth pounds 4bn a year. Some of the most sought-after species are being sold illegally through British pet shops.

Paul Andrews, environmental crime specialist at Interpol, which is based at the National Criminal Intelligence Service, said: "Britain is one of major purchasing countries for these rare species and we have criminals here brokering sales for the markets in America and Japan."

British species are also being targeted. Dutch and German police have warned that organised gangs of traders in birds of prey are taking carefully planned trips to Scotland to raid the nests of golden eagles, red kites and peregrine falcons. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said last night that there had been a marked increase in such thefts, with 40 peregrine falcons stolen last year. The world's most wanted rare bird is the Lear's macaw, of which only 98 are believed to still exist.

Three of the birds - which are worth around pounds 80,000 each - were found in raids on houses in Yorkshire in April.

It is believed they were brought to Britain from Australia, South America and Malaysia.

During the raids, Customs officers also seized 10 palm cockatoos and several yellow-tailed and red-tailed black cockatoos, both endangered species, and worth up to pounds 10,000.

One of the most frequently smuggled exotic birds is the hyacinth macaw, which will fetch around pounds 20,000. The traders estimate that they need to smuggle 12 eggs to have a good chance of one surviving.

Many of the bird smugglers wear customised jackets beneath their outer clothing. Each jacket contains up to 20 pouches in which the rare eggs are placed in the knowledge that they will not show up on X-ray machines.

The illegal trade in tortoises is also buoyant. Customs officers at Dover and Heathrow airport have seized India Star tortoises, which are usually smuggled in hand luggage and can be worth pounds 1,000 each.

The RSPB said last night that German falconers were believed to be mainly responsible for the loss of 40 peregrine falcons reported stolen last year. There are only 1,300 pairs in the UK.

Guy Shorrock, investigations officer for the RSPB, said: "During the last two breeding seasons there seems to have been a renewed interest in our native peregrines, particularly the ones from Scotland. There are a lot of indications that a number of birds are being taken and laundered on the Continent, especially in Germany."

The thieves often come in camper vans, equipped with incubators run from the vehicle's generator. They take the birds back to the Continent and pass them off as captive-bred.

Mr Shorrock said that the internal UK market for peregrines had almost died out following the prosecution of a several dealers through DNA testing of the birds.

But falconry is highly popular in Germany, where dealers also have contacts with Arab falconers prepared to pay thousands of pounds for wild-bred birds. He said: "German and Dutch falconers are coming over to Britain themselves but there are a number of people here who are willing to help for money."Two men from the Netherlands are facing charges in relation to alleged attempts to buy peregrine falcons in contravention of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Later this year Interpol is due to publish a report on the international trade in primates based on a world-wide police survey of reported thefts and seizures.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
The cartoon depicts the UK (far left) walking around a Syrian child refugee
newsIn an exclusive artwork for The Independent, Ali Ferzat attacks Britain's lack of 'humanity'
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
film
Sport
footballManager attacks Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp after criticism of Diego Costa's apparent stamping
News
video
Life and Style
food + drink
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Infrastructure / Development Support

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunity to join a...

Recruitment Genius: Partnership Relationship Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Partnership Relationship Mana...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Developer - Xamarin

£45000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software development compa...

Recruitment Genius: Student Support Assistants - Part Time & Full Time

£14600 - £17600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are passionate about sup...

Day In a Page

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
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore