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Wildlife Fund website, 22 Jul 05
UK wildlife law closes loophole on illegal endangered species trade
London, UK – WWF-UK and Traffic International have succeeded in helping close a loophole in British law that made it impossible for police officers to arrest people for selling illegal products made from the world’s most endangered species.
The efforts of enforcement officers have for some time been seriously hampered by inadequate legislation, where a person could be arrested for selling a common frog, but could not be arrested for selling a tiger skin, rhino horn, or elephant ivory.
WWF and TRAFFIC campaigned for a change in the UK 's Criminal Justice Act, which came into force in November 2003. Although the act introduced tougher penalties for those involved in the sale of illegal wildlife products – items often linked to international organized crime, murder, and corruption – the regulation was not put in place to allow police to arrest suspects until yesterday.
The revisions to the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations (COTES) came into force on 21 July 2005, with the maximum jail sentence for selling endangered species products increased from two to five years – meaning police can now use their powers of arrest to enforce it.
"This new regulation finally takes the handcuffs off the police and allows them to be placed on wildlife criminals for the first time, protecting the world's most endangered species," said David Cowdrey, WWF-UK's Wildlife Trade Campaign Director. "This regulation has been well overdue and will be powerful tool in the fight against wildlife crime."
The desperate need for this was made clear in November last year when British Police made one of the biggest ever seizures of illegal ivory in the UK but were powerless to arrest those responsible for it because the new regulation had not been issued.
Poaching of endangered species is a serious crime and has at times been responsible for the deaths of conservationists, park rangers, and poachers alike in gun battles. The closure of this loophole sends a clear message that this serious and organized criminal activity, threatening the world’s most endangered species across the world, will no longer be tolerated.
"We hope this new regulation will help close down the illegal wildlife markets in the UK," said Steven Broad, Executive Director of TRAFFIC International. "We look forward to working with the authorities in providing support to ensure that the UK’s legislation allows for no loopholes for criminal activities endangering the world’s biodiversity and raising awareness to ensure that penalties given reflect the serious nature of these crimes."
WWF and TRAFFIC hope that judges and prosecutors will now deal with these criminals and give appropriate sentences. "We hope the courts and the Crown Prosecution Service will consider the recent changes in the law and the serious consequences of ivory smuggling and organized criminal gangs operating overseas when dealing with similar cases in the future," added Cowdrey. "These are not petty crimes."
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