Live big cats and hippo teeth among UK border seizures

Taxidermy alligators Taxidermy alligators were among some of the more unusual items seized

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Eight live big cats, tortoises, hippo teeth and a Rolls Royce upholstered with alligator skin were seized by UK border officials in a record year for endangered animal items.

More of these items were confiscated in the year up to April 2013 than in any other year, the Home Office has said.

One of the biggest shifts was the increasing use of these species in bodybuilding supplements and facial creams, a border official said.

More than 690 seizures were made.

That was up from 516 seizures the year before and included 3,890kg (8,570lbs) of medicine containing extracts of endangered species, 326 ivory items and 93 live animals.

Wildlife groups said they feared the problem will only get worse.

'Preserved snake'

The items were confiscated under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (Cites).

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."

Snake in bottle of spirits One of the many items seized was a snake preserved in a bottle of spirits
Taxidermy animals Officials said the items were being brought into the UK in large quantities
Taxidermy owl The UK's place as a global hub means Cites goods often come through its borders

Of the use of endangered species in health and beauty products, Mr 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.

"People need to be aware of that."

While much of the trade is rising in Asian markets like China and Vietnam, the UK's position as a global logistics hub means Cites goods often come through its borders.

'Ruthless traffickers'

This year, 500kg (1,100lbs) of face cream containing caviar extract - the export of which is restricted - were discovered being imported from China, while 126,000 pots of "Detonate" and 15,120 of "CRAZE" - bodybuilding supplements containing the rare orchid Dendrobium - were seized en route from the US.

In May, a Manchester man received six months in prison for trying to import 750kg (1650lbs) of live coral from Vietnam.

Rachel Jones, of London Zoo, said: "As the financial situation internationally picks up and people have more money in their pockets, the trade in animals - alive or dead - or in artefacts and curios is only going to increase."

Immigration minister Mark Harper said: "Organised criminal gangs will smuggle anything if they think there is a profit to be made and animal products can be worth millions of pounds on the black market.

"The fact that this trade is contributing to the threat of extinction faced by many endangered species is of no interest to these ruthless traffickers.

"Officers are working tirelessly with partners in the National Crime Agency, the police and internationally to stamp out this illicit trade."

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