The UK’s contribution to a global Interpol operation targeting the illegal trade of reptiles and amphibians has been hailed a success by wildlife minister Richard Benyon. UK efforts concentrated on the illegal possession and trade of tortoise species.
The UK’s contribution to a global Interpol operation targeting the illegal trade of reptiles and amphibians has been hailed a success by wildlife minister Richard Benyon.
Launched in response to a growing trade in illegal wildlife, Operation RAMP saw police, customs and wildlife enforcement authorities in 51 countries carrying out thousands of checks at ports, pet shops and animal suppliers.
The operation, which ran throughout September and October, focused on the illegal trade and possession of reptiles and amphibians. Worldwide, it resulted in a number of arrests and the seizure of thousands of animals and illicit products worth more than €25 million.
In the UK, efforts were concentrated on the illegal possession and trade of tortoise species that had been highlighted as a priority under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
More than 60 inspections were completed at Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester airports, and hundreds of visits were made to reptile traders, breeders, shows, importers and exporters across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
OPERATION RAMP is the second global Interpol operation to target wildlife crime. The first, Operation TRAM, was conducted in February 2010. This earlier operation targeted the illegal trade in traditional medicines containing wildlife products, and resulted in the seizure of more than €10m worth of products.
For Operation RAMP, the UKBA completed 64 inspections involving 40,801 animals at Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester airports. A total of £11,876 in unpaid revenue was claimed by the UKBA for two wrongly declared shipments. With very few exceptions the import and export activity monitored by the UKBA was found to be legally compliant.
Police, the NWCU and Animal Health (WLRS) visited 556 reptile traders, importers and exporters, reptile shows and breeders. Detailed assessments of visit records are ongoing. To date, 97 records have been assessed, and 60 non-compliance issues have been identified. In each case of non-compliance enforcement action has been taken by police.
A further 329 records of visits are awaited and will be analysed once received.
Wildlife minister Richard Benyon praised the organisations involved in Operation RAMP in the UK, which included 46 police forces, Animal Health‘s wildlife licensing and registration service, the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) and the UK Border Agency (UKBA).
He said: “I am grateful to everyone who took part in this successful operation which resulted in a number of arrests and the seizure of thousands of animals and illicit products.
“Tackling wildlife crime is a top priority for the Government and we are committed to doing all we can to end it. I have seen for myself the expertise and dedication of those who police wildlife crime. By working in partnership with the public, police and conservation bodies we can thwart these criminals and help protect endangered species.”
Brian Stuart, chair of the Interpol Wildlife Crime Working Group and a detective inspector with the NWCU, said investigations sparked by Operation RAMP would go on for several months.
“Enquiries are continuing and it is likely the final tally of animals seized and people arrested will exceed the figures highlighted today by the Interpol Secretariat,” he said.
“The success of Operation RAMP is the culmination of many months of painstaking intelligence gathering, and I welcome the extensive contribution made by my colleagues around the world in combating the illicit trade in endangered species.
“It is often forgotten that law enforcement officers in the developing world frequently lose their lives in the protection of rare plant and animal species. Their sacrifice serves to remind us of the considerable financial gain to criminals who are involved in wildlife crime, and reinforces our commitment to preventing it wherever possible.”
Interpol secretary General Ronald K. Noble said the operation had sent an important message to the gangs and individuals involved in the illegal animal trade.
He said: “Investigations will continue well beyond the conclusion of Operation RAMP, but the message has been sent loud and clear that, globally, countries are working together to put the criminals out of business once and for all.”