Wildlife smugglers to face tougher sentences

Smugglers caught trading illegally in endangered species will face up to five years in jail under tough plans supported by the Government yesterday. The maximum sentence for dealing in illicit wildlife is only two years. But during a Commons debate on a backbench Bill to strengthen existing legislation, Alun Michael, Rural Affairs minister, indicated that would rise sharply.

The Bill's sponsor, Tory Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid Kent), withdrew his Endangered Species (Illegal Trade) Bill after Mr Michael assured him the Government was likely to act. Mr Michael said it would probably include the measures in the Criminal Justice Bill due to go before Parliament later this year.

Mr Robertson said paltry fines and low sentences were making Britain a centre for illegal trafficking in endangered species, with trading worth more than £5bn a year, the most important criminal activity worldwide after drugs.

Police recently seized tiger cubs, which had been killed when less than two weeks old, stuffed and mounted on a branch, as well as gorilla skulls, leopards and rare birds. The World Wide Fund for Nature reckons at least 20 per cent of the world's species could be extinct in the next 30 years.

"Illegal trading in animal products, or the animals themselves, is a major contributor to this," Mr Robertson said. "I very much regret to say the UK is a major centre for this trade, as both a transit route and indeed as a final destination. There are clear and proven links with organised crime with endangered species being traded along exactly the same smuggling lines as drugs and guns."

British customs seized an average of 570 illegal wildlife items each day, but only 51 cases had been prosecuted in 14 years.

Mr Michael said ministers accepted that increasing the penalties was justified but were consulting on it.

"It would be premature to support the Bill while public consultation is still proceeding," he said. "But we will return to the matter in the later stages of the Criminal Justice Bill when I hope we will be able to put in place exactly those measures you sought today."

Also discovered recently by police have been illegally held sparrow hawks, snowy owls, turtles, tortoises, parrots and a host of primates.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn