• DAY 316: WILD ANIMALS IN A SILENT ROOM – PHOTOS OF ILLEGAL CONTRABAND

    Aug 07 2013
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    On a plain office table we perched a number of illegally seized wildlife specimens and starting take photos….

    There’s something eerie about seeing tiger cubs, leopards, herons, rare tortoises and whale teeth confined in a bland urban office.

    The Wildlife Crime Unit keeps hundreds of  seized contraband specimens in a silent unmarked room in a non-descript building somewhere in London.  I tried to capture these ex-creatures’ spectacular beauty – and horror – against the most meaningless background I could find.

    No-one hears you scream when you’re standing on an Ikea table.

     

    A stuffed leopard in unceremonious garb and elephant tusk - seized contraband at the Wildlife Crime Unit

    A stuffed leopard in unceremonious garb and elephant tusk –

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    Table full of seized ivory. Some elephant tusks are now removed from the animal with explosives

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    This is a hippo tooth. It is linked to photo 1

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    This is an African Black Rhino Horn. It was traced to a company based in London, who were intending to sell it into the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) market back in 1996.

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    Elephant tusk seized from man involved in the trade of ivory. He had elephant ivory and a large quantity of hippo ivory that was being carved into figurines. He was charged by police

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    Badger hair and ivory shaving brushes seized from Jermyn Street, London

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    These are thigh bones of the rare Asiatic Black Bear. They were being passed off as Tiger bone, as these are more valuable in the TCM market. They were being offered for sale by a TCM shop in Soho

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    This bird trap was seized from someone in South East London, who was taking part in wild finch trapping in 2012. The captured birds are often then put into the pet trade or sold to restaurants

    These bird eggs were seized by an egg collector in London. He travelled to Scotland to collect many of the eggs. Police recovered some 700 bird eggs were recovered from his home address. He was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment

    These bird eggs were seized by an egg collector in London. He travelled to Scotland to collect many of the eggs. Police recovered some 700 bird eggs were recovered from his home address. He was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment

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    Rare tortoise shells

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    Elephant tusk

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    This mink was donated to the Wildlife Crime Unit so that it could provide an example of a non-native species and the consequences of such a species being introduced into the wild

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    This Hawksbill turtle was seized from a North London taxidermist. This species is unfortunately very commonly used in the illegal wildlife trade

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    The crocodile skin bag was handed into the police after the owner found out that it was actually made from real crocodile!

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    The Guillemot was seized from the same taxidermist in North London

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    This Tawny Owl was seized from an address in South East London

     

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    Gall bladders seized in Soho. They were sold as bear gall; they are infact pig gall bladders

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    Guillemot seized from a taxidermist in North London

    These small bottles contain ground bear bile. This item was seized at London Heathrow Airport by the National CITES Enforcement Team at UK Border Force.

    These small bottles contain ground bear bile. This item was seized at London Heathrow Airport by the National CITES Enforcement Team at UK Border Force.

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    Cory’s Shearwater bird seized from taxidermist in North London

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    This is a Purple Heron, which is a rare visitor to the UK. It was seized in Brixton as the owner was unable to prove legal possession of the item. The owner had a very large collection of taxidermied birds in their collection

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    The badger was donated to the Wildlife Crime Unit as an educational aide, to highlight the issues of badger persecution.

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    The making of….

    This tiger cub got to me most...

    This tiger cub got to me most…

    Me and my assistant, Jake, spent two hours trying different set ups before settling on the bland office table.

    Me and my assistant, Jake, spent two hours trying different set ups before settling on the bland office table.

    The gear we took - in the end we mostly used available light

    The gear we took – in the end we mostly used available light

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  • DAY 313: DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH IVORY COMES THROUGH LONDON? I VISIT A SECRET POLICE HAUL IN LONDON

    Aug 04 2013

    Sergeant Ian Knox of the Wildlife Crime Unit standing over a haul ivory and other contraband in an office in central London

    Sergeant Ian Knox of the Wildlife Crime Unit standing over a haul ivory and other contraband in an office in central 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.

    Shave with blood: a brush from badger hair and ivory - sold openly in central London....

    Shave with blood: a brush from badger hair and ivory – sold openly in central London….

    ...yours for £1100

    …yours for £1100

    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 wild and undignified - leopards and rare birds wrapped in plastic specimen bags to live out their days in a dull office. Something tells me this is not right.

    The wild and undignified – leopards and rare birds wrapped in plastic specimen bags to live out their days in a dull office. Something tells me this is not right.

    Gall bladders from bears

    Gall bladders from bears

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    Sgt Knox with a rhino horn

    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…

    Moose had his birthday....

    Moose had his birthday….

    ...and saw a ferret...

    …and saw a ferret…

    ...and the baby fox in the garden is doing well. Some wildlife have it OK

    …and the baby fox in the garden is doing well. Some wildlife have it OK

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