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Posted by W von Papinešu on August 08, 2002 at 18:20:29:
MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS (UK) 08 August 02 Smuggling threat to endangered animals
Endangered animals are being threatened with extinction thanks to a flourishing trade in exotic species through Manchester Airport.
More and more live and dead animals considered endangered are being seized by customs officers at Manchester.
Last year alone some 2,000 items were taken off passengers and seized from freight at the airport.
Wildlife smuggling is worth £3.7b a year to gangs around the world.
Now customs have joined forces with wildlife campaigners to tackle both smugglers who make money out of the trade and souvenir-hunters who unwittingly break the law.
They have set up a showcase of the items they have found at terminal two to persuade passengers that they could be contributing towards a deadly demand in animals which are already under threat.
In the worst cases, smugglers face seven years in prison and an unlimited fine if convicted.
However, in most cases items are seized and passengers are simply warned.
Last month a 17-year-old girl tried to smuggle a chameleon disguised as a hat from Dubai through Manchester Airport.
In February, two rare Spur Thigh tortoises were found hidden in cigarette cartons in the luggage of a Preston woman who had come from Tunisia.
Like tiger and giant panda, the tortoises are considered at high risk of extinction. However, a flourishing black market means they could have fetched £500 each. The British Tortoise Trust has given them a new home.
Last year customs officers at Manchester sized a third of a tonne of smuggled caviar, also considered endangered and whose importation requires a license.
They also seized a consignment of live coral, a suitcase-full of crocodile skulls from Ghana and tiger bone - which is used in Chinese medicine.
Geoff Connor, the endangered species officer for customs and excise at Manchester Airport, said: "These are people who break the law by bringing back what they consider to be innocent souvenirs such as seashells and coral, whilst others knowingly smuggle protected species for profit.
"It is frightening to think what people will try to smuggle and the risks they will put themselves and others though to make money.
"Customs officers are at the front line. We have specialist teams who are having great success in seizing smuggled items and deterring would-be smugglers."
Jim Forshaw, of the WWF, a global environment network, said: "Every year tourists unwittingly become part of the illegal wildlife trade by bringing home exotic souvenirs made from endangered species, such as ivory and tortoise shell.
"They also expose themselves to the possibility of prosecution and a hefty fine. Ignorance is not a defence. Our message is: if in doubt, don't buy."
Environment minister Michael Meacher said: "Holidaymakers and other travellers need to know that when they buy souvenirs such as corals and caviar, they are moving endangered species closer to extinction. They also risk having their gift or memento confiscated as they arrive back in the UK."
More than 800 animals and plants are banned from international trade and a further 25,000 are controlled through licensing under the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species.