The global illegal wildlife trade is valued in excess of $20 billion a year, according to a study commissioned by the WWF and Traffic, and whilst stopping animal trafficking was for long not a priority for governments, things have started to change. Governments are recognising that the illegal trade in animals is indeed a massive problem, as it is feeds the criminal gangs that run it, and is seen as a method of funding terrorism – besides, of course, robbing the source country of its natural flora and fauna. The illegal trade in animals can also facilitate the spread of diseases such as SARS, meaning that tackling the problem of illegal trade can also help tackle epidemics before they take off.
In the UK, the frontline in the battle against the illegal wildlife trade is the UK Border Force CITES Unit, which is an eight person strong team dedicated to preventing the flow of illegally traded and smuggled animals in the UK (their seizures and volumes report for 2013-14 can be seen here). As London in particular is a cosmopolitan, multicultural city, the volume of items and animals entering the UK for use and sale is quite staggering. These come not only in the luggage of passengers, but also in freight, which is being used in lengthy trafficking routes for illegal timber, as it can be smuggled through the UK from the source country, on to its final destination, such as China, where various woods are prized for their colours and scents.
In 2013, a total of 690 items were confiscated by the UK Border Force, including hippo teeth, rhino horn, taxidermy items, and even live big cats. The maximum prison sentence for animal smuggling in the UK is seven years, with the longest term being the six and a half year term given to an animal dealer caught with 23 endangered birds of prey in suitcases.
The maximum prison sentence for animal smuggling is seven years. The longest term handed down has been the six and a half years given to an animal dealer caught with 23 endangered birds of prey packed in suitcases.