A couple who ran a pet shop turned their hand to illegal trading in the skins and bones of some of the most endangered species in the world.
Graham and Norah Pitchforth sold on eBay, among others, a stuffed lion cub and birds of prey, monkey skulls, flying fox skulls, butterflies, snake skulls and the skin and skull of a penguin.
Other species included baboons, macaques, otters, macaws, rhinoceros, kestrels and a porcupine.
The Pitchforths ran a legitimate business, called Get The Bug, on the internet auction site, selling specimens of animals they had imported or acquired – but some transactions were outlawed.
They each pleaded guilty earlier this year to multiple charges relating to the importing, exporting, selling and possession of endangered species after failing to get necessary documentation.
Leeds Crown Court heard that the couple sometimes labelled packages as other items, such as "table decorations", to avoid suspicion, and on one occasion agreed with a seller to claim that a stuffed snowy owl was a gift when he had paid £150 for the item.
The pair, from West Yorkshire, were yesterday sentenced to 44 weeks' imprisonment, suspended for 18 months. They were also ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.
The court was told that the couple, of Wrenthorpe, Wakefield, had run a pet shop for 20 years and were "extremely well-thought-of" in the local community. Graham Pitchforth, 61, had an interest in collecting specimens and taxidermy and had a part-time job lecturing students at Wakefield College about endangered animals.
The pair set up the eBay shop and sold 3,637 animal specimens – of which 22 were found to have been traded illegally between October 2005 and December 2006, making a profit of £2,329.16.
The court heard that the couple failed to get the relevant permits for the importation, exportation or sale of these 22 transactions, despite knowing they were needed.
Sentencing, Judge Christopher Batty told them: "You fall to be sentenced for 22 transactions made in the full knowledge you were not entitled to make them. You did and knew you did not have the necessary authorisation so to do. Much of your business was legitimate, and as such it is clear that you had the relevant knowledge and expertise to deal legitimately in the trade of endangered species."
Judge Batty said Norah Pitchforth, 65, received a police caution in July 2005 for offering a barn owl for sale without the appropriate permit.
On other occasions, the couple were told that some skulls required certificates but continued without and a consignment of hornbill casks exported to the United States was seized for not having proper documentation. Some transactions were arranged by email, which the couple sometimes asked to be destroyed following the sale.
The couple held hands and Norah Pitchforth repeatedly wiped her eyes as Judge Batty told them he would suspend their sentences, despite the serious nature of the crimes.
He said: "I have thought long and hard today about what to do with you. This was a deliberate flouting of the regulations for commercial gain."
The pair admitted 12 counts of illegally exporting, three of illegally importing, seven of illegally selling and two of illegally possessing specimens under the Customs and Excise Management Act.
Animal specimens sold – 22 of which were found to have been traded illegally.