Raid hits trade in endangered species

Seized medicines allegedly made from parts of tigers, rhino, bears and tortoises. Louise Jury reports

Chinese medicines allegedly made from parts of tigers, rhinoceroses, bears and tortoises were being tested yesterday after detectives seized large quantities in a raid on a warehouse.

Officers investigating the illegal trade in endangered species raided the west London warehouse, described as the size of a "small airport hangar", in the second prong of an offensive against the trade.

Half a lorryload of products were taken away for analysis after the raid, which was carried out on Thursday at the same time as police questioned suspected suppliers in Hong Kong.

The manager has been reported for possible offences in breach of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (Cites) to which Britain is a signatory.

The move follows an operation in February when products from threatened animals were seized from shops in London, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands. Two London shopowners were fined pounds 3,000 and pounds 2,000 respectively and ordered to pay costs.

Inspector John Francis, the Metropolitan Police's senior wildlife officer, and PC Dave Cove said they believed the warehouse was a major supplier for the south-east of England.

The valuable raw animal products, such as bear bile and tiger bone, sell for up to pounds 200 an ounce, making the haul worth thousands.

Wildlife organisations, which have been consulted about the Metropolitan Police initiative, codenamed Operation Charm, welcomed the action.

Bobbie Jo Kelso, of Traffic, which monitors the trade in cooperation with the Cites Secretariat, said: "We're really pleased that things were found because we think every item counts. But we're particularly pleased that a lot less was found than in February."

The world-wide trade was "absolutely huge" but it appeared that traders in Britain were deciding the police operation made it not worth the risk, she said.

Lucy Farmer, of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), said it was good that police were taking the problem seriously. "This illegal trade is threatening animals, like tigers, with imminent extinction.

"Unless the trade can be stopped, there is no future for animals like tigers."

Chinese remedies are rooted in 4,000 years of tradition, but growing Western interest in alternative medicines has increased the threat to animal and plant species.

Products taken on Thursday included some using the root and seed pods of a rare orchid not previously known to environmental investigators for its use in Chinese medicine.

It is an offence not only to sell or keep for sale products on the Cites banned lists, but also any purporting to contain them - even if they do not. Many of the products taken from the warehouse do not have an English description of what they do. Where they have one, they have been covered with a sticker stating: "No medical claims are made for this product".

Rhinoceros

Part of

animal used

Rhino horn allegedly in Peaceful Tea and Chinese Old Man Tea seized this week

Rhino horn is a valuable ingredient in

traditional Chinese medicine but is not, contrary to popular belief, prescribed as an aphrodisiac. It is used to treat many

illnesses, particularly for reducing fevers and strokes. Research on the pharmacological characteristics has shown evidence of fever-reducing

properties

Total population now around 11,000 including fewer than 100 Javan and 500 Sumatran. In 1970, black rhinos may have numbered 65,000 in sub-Saharan Africa and were the most

numerous of the five species. Today, only around 2,500 survive

Java, Sumatra, India, Africa.

Saiga Antelope

Saiga antelope horn in Peaceful Tea

Saiga horn is used to treat convulsions, headaches, vertigo and other complaints.

Reports from laboratory tests have indicated that saiga horn reduced convulsions in toads and mice caused by caffeine and soothed pain in these animals. A boiled extract reduced fevers in rabbits suffering from typhoid

The worldwide

population is more than 1 million. But it has come under intense pressure from hunters, causing it be listed in CITES last

November. Only 350 are thought to survive in Mongolia

Nomadic herds on the steppes of Central Asia

Tiger

Tiger bone in Chinese Old Man Tea

Tiger bone is the most valued of all parts of the tiger. It is most commonly used to treat rheumatism, but other indications are weakness and stiffness or paralysis, expecially in the lower back and legs.

The active ingredients in tiger bones are calcium and protein, according to Chinese medical texts

Three of the eight

sub-species of tigers have become extinct this century and there are now as few as 5,000. All five remaining sub-species are threatened with

extinction

Siberia, China, India and across South Asia

Bear

Bear bile in Fargelin For Piles

Bear bile is used to treat inflammation and bacterial infections and a range of painful, sometimes fatal,

diseases of the liver, including cancer, cirrhosis, jaundice and hepatitis. No known Western tests carried out but synthesised cow gall, resembling bear gall, is used in Western medicine to dissolve gall stones

Fewer than 1 million bears are left worldwide with Asian bears the most affected. In China, approximately 10,000 bears are kept in small cages from where their bile is

regularly "milked" to supply the medicinal trade

Asia, North America and small numbers in Eastern Europe

Tortoises

Tortoise shell in Da Bu Yin Wan

The upper part of

turtle shell is recommended for reducing fever, clearing blockages and softening

tumours. The bottom part of the shell is used for treating faint and weak voices,

nocturnal sweats,

lumbago and to promote contractions during difficult childbirth. No known Western tests carried out

A number of different turtles and tortoises are under threat. All the sub-species of the testudinidae family are either banned or available for export only under strict regulations

Avariety of counties across Africa and Asia

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