Endangered Species Trade in the UK
The European Council regulation 338/97 introduced controls on the trade in endangered species within the European Union and, in the UK, the police are given statutory powers to enforce these controls by the COTES (Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997), as amended.
The illegal trade in endangered species is like any other trade in that it works on the basis of supply and demand and the UK helps to fuel that consumer demand by providing an illegal market.
The illegal trade in endangered species is a huge international business, which makes profits for the poachers, traffickers and traders. Most of the world’s endangered species that are threatened by trade are killed to be made into products, which are then sold illegally in the UK and other countries.
Endangered species products come in many different forms, from traditional Chinese medicines, some of which are made from tigers, rhinos, bears and many other less well known, but equally endangered species of animals and plants, to ornamental and decorative items such as animal skins, ivory, tortoiseshell (made from sea turtle shells) and fashion items such as shahtoosh shawls, which are made from the wool of the endangered Tibetan antelope.
COTES 1997 makes it an offence to sell, keep for sale, offer for sale, transport for sale, use for a commercial purpose, or purchase anything which claims to be made from a species in Annex A of the EC Council Regulation. This is important because it gives police the power to take action against the illegal trade in the UK and, therefore, contribute to international efforts to stop the illegal trade.
Operation Charm is the only ongoing police initiative against the illegal trade in endangered species in the UK. Since its launch in 1995, it has been responsible for the seizure of tens of thousands of items made from endangered species which were on sale in London.