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Bear Bile, Seahorses, and Tortoise Jelly: The UK Had a Record Year for Wildlife Busts

Among the confiscated products were health and beauty supplements from the US.
Some confiscated wildlife items. Via Home Office

Hot on the heels of the US’s recent initiatives to fight wildlife crime, the British government has announced a clamp down on illegal trade in endangered species. The Home Office said that more illegal items were picked up at the UK border from April 2012 to April 2013 than in any other year, and the types of products confiscated revealed a new trend in the wildlife black market.

Border Force officials made over 675 seizures throughout the year and said one reason for the increase was epidemic levels of poaching. They confiscated 326 ivory items and £1 million worth of rhino horn. Grant Miller, a senior officer with CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), said in a video that some of the items were on their way to China when they were picked up by British border officers. “It comes via the United Kingdom, because the transit hubs are in the UK,” he explained. Trophies such as rhino horns are seen as status symbols in some Asian countries.


Other items included 466 Hermann’s tortoises at Heathrow Airport, 750kg of corals from Vietnam, monkey skulls, taxidermy turtles and crocodiles, elephant hide boots, and a Rolls Royce upholstered with alligator skin.

Grant Miller talks through some of the confiscated items. Via Youtube/UK Home Office

But on top of the usual items (ok, maybe the Rolls is a special case), officials have identified a relatively new—and growing—market for illegal animal products: health and beauty fads.

Of course, endangered species have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine, and some of the substances confiscated—such as vials of bear bile, tiger bones, seahorses, and a whole 1.6 tonnes of tortoise jelly—were clearly intended for that market. But there was also a marked increase in modern, “body beautiful” products and supplements that contained ingredients originating from endangered plants and animals.

“It’s not just the traditional Chinese medicines that we used to go and look for; we’re now having to go and look at products coming in from the west coast of America,” Miller said in another video for the Independent. “It really is a global issue. We’re taking the world’s resources and we’re trafficking them, not always for good.” One such product the Border Force confiscated was face cream containing illegal caviar, and while I can’t personally see why you’d want to put fish eggs on your face, apparently enough people are into it that they found 500kg of the stuff en route from China.

On the list of intercepted items was also a large amount of nutrition supplements from America: 126,000 pots of a weight-loss pill called “Detonate,” and 15,120 pots of a sports supplement called “CRAZE.” These products were confiscated because they contained rare orchids, but they also caused controversy in the US last month when scientists found both contained a “meth-like” compound.

Hey, at least it’s not dead babies.