Police seize hoard of dead rare animals

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Environment Correspondent

A huge collection of endangered birds, mammals and reptiles, many of them dismembered and frozen, was seized in a raid by police and customs officers in Wales yesterday.

The find that most shocked wildlife conservation bodies was a skull of the critically endangered Philippine eagle, of which there are fewer than 200 left in the wild. The eagle has an eight-foot wingspan and is large enough to kill monkeys.

The raid, code-named Operation Indiana, took place at a large house in the countryside just outside Newtown, Powys, owned by a man involved in the taxidermy trade. Investigators from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Traffic, an organisation which monitors the trade in endangered species, were involved in the planning and execution.

Officers found rooms and deep freezes packed with the remains of several hundred animals and it will take days to identify them all. They included tiger skins, the hide of a Komodo dragon - a large, carnivores reptile from South-east Asia - stuffed chimpanzees and a baby chimp preserved in a bottle.

International trade in all of these is banned under the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cities). They are on Appendix I of the treaty, which lists the most endangered species.

"It's the largest seizure of Appendix I specimens there has ever been in Britain," Guy Shorrock, an investigator with the RSPB, said.

"I don't know of any living specimens of the Philippine eagle in this country. There may be as few as 50 left in the wild, and it's frightening to find a skull turning up here."

The World Wide Fund for Nature, which partly funds Traffic, said it believed many of the animal remains would be stuffed for wealthy private collectors.

Police and customs officers said there would now be further inquiries in South-east Asia and Europe following up on the raid. Last night police said they had detained a 40-year-old local man.