Anything to declare? Hippo teeth, walrus horns, taxidermy alligators and potions made from rare orchids - UK border officials seize record number of endangered animal items

Officials from the Home Office have said more items were confiscated in the year up to April 2013 than in any other year

Rob Williams@bobjwilliams
Friday 15 November 2013 13:40

Eight live big cats, hippo teeth, tortoises aplenty, walrus horns and a Rolls Royce upholstered with alligator skin were among some of the weird items being smuggled into Britain, border officials have said.

Click above to see a gallery of the seized items

Officials from the Home Office have said more items were confiscated in the year up to April 2013 than in any other year. A total of 690 items were seized a number up from 509 items the year before.

Among the weirder items of contraband were rhino horns, £4,000 shawls made of Tibetan antelope wool and books bound in elephant hide.

A Rolls Royce upholstered in alligator skin and a piece of artwork featuring a rare £35,000 rock pigeon clutched between the jaws of a human skull were also seized as well as eight live big cats and 466 Hermann's tortoises.

Officials said the increase was marked by a shift in the beauty and fitness industries, where endangered species once used only in folk medicines are being sold as bodybuilding supplements and facial creams.

Grant Miller, the senior officer on the Border Force CITES team, said: "We have everything from rhino horn to ivory to the taxidermy items and marine species that we see being brought back into the UK, both in passengers' luggage - but more importantly, and in large quantities, through freight."

Items are confiscated at the border under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).

Among the items seized were 3,890kg of medicine containing extracts of endangered species, 326 ivory items, 93 live animals. The haul included 500kg of face cream containing caviar extract and bodybuilding supplements containing the rare orchid Dendrobium.

Snakeskin and crocodile skin high heels, pinned butterflies, and boxes of health and bodybuilding supplements are piled alongside bags of animal hides and turquoise snakeskin hotpants.

On one shelf is a tiny stuffed tortoise, looking like a toy; nearby a larger marine turtle imported through Dover as a souvenir, its insides hollowed out.

Jan Sowa, who works with the CITES team, said: "I'm not surprised by anything any more."

Grant Miller said: "The market is evolving - there is more demand from a wider set of consumers.

"From the traditional Chinese medicine products that we used to see we're now seeing new age beauty products, the health and fitness slimming pills, that are having endangered species within their ingredients."

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