DAY 313: DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH IVORY COMES THROUGH LONDON? I VISIT A SECRET POLICE HAUL IN LONDON
Seargent Ian Knox fits the image of the typical British policeman –broad, stern-looking in an authoritative way, but nevertheless kind and deeply polite – he’d book you for sure, but in the nicest possible way.
Except Sgt Knox is not your typical bobby.
He’s rarer than a free-roaming pangolin – a UK policeman devoted to fighting international wildlife crime. He is one of a dying breed here in the UK. The present government, a long with our fine London Mayor, Boris Johnson, have cut all funding and currently the WCU (the Wildlife Crime Unit) survive as a tiny and protected group supported by WSPA. (World Society for Protection of Animals). And that funding can not last for long – soon they could go extinct.
‘‘People assume wildlife crime is a long way away, it is not. It’s right under our noses. See this?’ said Sgt Ian Knox holding up a fine-looking shaving brush ‘We found this for sale on Jermyn Street, 150 yrds from Fortnum and Mason in Central London. Anyone would think it was legit.’
I rather liked the look of it. And only £1100. But it was made from solid ivory and badger hair and had a provenance of blood and suffering.
The work of the WCU can be anything from seizing illegal products in Chinese shops to ivory being sold in Portobello Market, to working alongside a team in Heathrow who conduct seizures of live animals coming through London or confronting people chopping down bushes containing fledgling birds. But there are only a handful of them and I needn’t remind you that the international trade in wildlife is the third biggest illegal trade in the world.
I am in a secret and non-descript building somewhere in London where they store ‘sensitive’ material from crime scenes. This also includes a vast haul of seized contraband from the illegal wildlife trade that has been captured over the last years. This is a dreary office filled with ikea-type tables and lit with overhead neon and behind me is a vast tiger in mid-leap, various other wild cats in undignified plasic bags, cabinets filled with tiger bone and whale tooth, others with complete rhino horn, boxes of rare bird eggs and butterflies and then bags and bags of seized TCM – traditional Chinese medicine.
But the floor is dirty and tatty, the chairs cheap. The UK street value of the items in goes into the many millions – in China it would be worth more – but there seems no budget for the carpet.
The problem is that human crime will always take precedent over wildlife crime. Whilst the economy is weak and there are targets to meet for human crime – assault, burglary, theft – it is difficult to persuade those that hold the purse strings to redirect much needed cash into fighting the abuse or rare and endangered animals. Even so, WSPA has indicated that much of the public are on side with the plight of wild animals but that doesn’t mean that all the top politicians are. It is unlikely that Boris Johnson will stand up and announce a new target for international trade in Pangolin scales.
But the bottom line is that the international trade of animals results in vast amounts of death, suffering and species extinction. And we are all interconnected – as if evident by this huge room of STUFF in central London. Only a very small fraction of the cash used to find general crime needs to be redirected to keep the wildlife crime unit going – let’s hope they continue to do their great work.
Of all the exhibits, particularly depressing was a baby tiger cub that was stuffed around 10 days old. It eye’s had apparently not yet opened and been prized apart to make it look more dignified. It was found in a shop in Islington. I have more to tell you about that but I spent a day photographing this stuff with assistant and fancy lights and a proper camera. I’m going to edit the shots and tell you more in the next blog.
PS – and on a lighter note…