• DAY 315: HOW I ACCIDENTALLY GAVE MONEY TO A CRIMINAL TAXIDERMIST

    Aug 06 2013

     

    a 10 day-old tiger cub that was seized in 2006 from a London trader who was then   successfully prosecuted

    A 10 day-old tiger cub that was seized in 2006 from a London trader who was then successfully prosecuted: photo taken courtesy of the Wildlife Crime Unit in London

    This is a ten-day old tiger cub that was illegally imported into the UK in 2006 to be sold on the black market for £20,000.

    It stares out  from it’s plinth as if posing as a vast animal overseeing it’s jungle. But it is pathetically small. It’s stance serves only as a depressing reminder of man’s awful power over nature.  

    This is the most poignant of all the seized illegal wildlife contraband I saw at the Wildlife Crime Unit last week. As soon as I get clearance I will publish the rest of the photos here – apologies for delay on this. THe images are powerful and I hope I might get them into a magazine along with an article to bring awareness to the issues of wildlife crime – and how it is relevant to all of us.

    This cub was one of two seized by police from dealer Robert Sclare who runs a taxidermy shop in Islington, London, called Get Stuffed. Sclare was jailed for six months but he is currently back at his trade.

     

    The taxidermy shop on the corner of Essex road in Islington London where the owner has been implicated in a number of wildlife crimes - now continues to thrive as a business

    The taxidermy shop on the corner of Essex road in Islington London where the owner has been implicated in a number of wildlife crimes – now continues to thrive as a business

    A quick google search on his name reveals a Telegraph article from 2004 that identifies him as also one of a handful of people that has, in the past, been selling human foetuses, (apparently this was legal back then, if no less vile becasue of it):

    ” Mr Sclare, who was sentenced to six months in prison in 2000 for forging licences to allow him to import rare animals for stuffing, showed an undercover reporter a 14-week foetus he keeps in a jar, but declined to sell it.

    When asked about human specimens, he revealed a human head and amputated hand he keeps in plastic bags out of sight of customers.

    He said the advent of the internet, which has made it easier for prospective purchasers to submit bids, had sent prices soaring.

    We have human bits and pieces – we all do, and we like to keep them to ourselves, and things that are sold are astronomically expensive. I have been offered £25,000 for the mummified head. There have been a couple of deals done with Japanese and they paid monstrous money, and consequently shockwaves went round those that have got items. Suddenly, the anatomical specimens are fetching thousands.”

    (telegraph 1st Aug, 2004)

    The curious thing is that I have met Mr Sclare before and it struck me then, in my tiny, prejudiced mind that he was a nasty piece of work.

    An early project I did on foxes in East London

    An early project I did on foxes in East London

    East London Foxes

    When I started off as a photographer I wanted to do a project on the beautiful but mischievous foxes that live in East London.

    After realising I had no chance of capturing the real things, I went to ‘Get Stuffed’ to hire a taxidermied fox . It took me a number of calls and emails to get an appointment (now I know why he was so cautious) and when I finally met him I felt as if I’d been punched in the face. I’ve met some moody shop sellers in my time but this guy did his best to sneer at me, telling me not to touch anything, making me feel foolish. In the end he reluctantly rented the fox to me for £400 – ‘more than a ferrari’ he said proudly – I suppose it was my mistake for paying, and then said if there was a single scratch on it he’d make me pay £1000’s to replace it.

    I got some unusual shots but it’s fairly horrible to think the money went into his filthy little pockets. ‘Get stuffed’ – my sentiments exactly.

    I don’t know why a character assessment is relevant  – other than to say the people working in the illegal trade are a fairly hardened, miserable lot.

    yes...the fox is stuffed..

    yes…the fox is stuffed..

    foxy_chickenshop

    Foxylady

    foxy_nightclub

     

     

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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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