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Police cuts may make wildlife crime easier

Conservationists warn UK wildlife smuggling will rise as the Met Police’s wildlife crime unit faces cuts and redeployment of detectives.

Criminal gangs will find it easier to smuggle endangered species and illegal wildlife products into the UK after cuts to the Metropolitan Police’s wildlife crime unit, global conservation groups have warned. 

A recent BBC report has discovered that the Met will redeploy the unit’s detectives to local policing and will leave illegal traffickers “freer to offend”. The Met told the BBC the force would still investigate wildlife crime and there would still be a centralised function but would not comment on what that would be. 

Global wildlife crime is said to be worth up to £17bn a year and is the fourth-largest international crime, according to Interpol. However, the Met’s wildlife crime unit has struggled for resources since it was established in 2004 and has been part-funded by animal conservation charities. 

Diggory Hadoke, international hunter and owner of Vintage Guns, told ST: “Everybody involved in legal and ethical sport hunting wants to see proper controls on the illegal trade in animals and their parts. All around the world hunters’ money is used to combat poaching and educate local people about the value of their wild animal resources. 

“It is depressing to see endless media stories about pointless virtue-signalling policies like an import ban on legally hunted trophies. It’s an issue that seems to obsess politicians and pressure groups, while essential resources to tackle actual wildlife crime are removed and specialist investigators defunded. 

“The message is clear. The UK is not serious about facing down a multimillion-dollar wildlife crime epidemic but is prepared to waste precious House of Commons legislation time to push forward baseless attacks on the hunting industry – an industry that actually supports conservation and promotes sustainable methods of environmental protection.” 

Dr Mark Jones, head of policy with international charity Born Free, said: “With the world’s wildlife in crisis, and with wildlife crime increasing around the globe, including here in the UK, the news that the Metropolitan Police plans to disband its wildlife crime unit is very disturbing.” 

Border Force officers will still work at entry points across the UK to deal with the smuggling of wildlife and products – such as ivory and illegal trophies – banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).