World Society for the Protection of Animals seeks museum for unique Wildlife Crime display

By Culture24 Reporter | 02 February 2012
An image of a stuffed tiger
Tigers have been among the animals affected by wildlife crime in London© Christopher Ratcliffe
A 10-day-old "decorative" stuffed tiger cub and a three-metre long polar bear skin will feature in a carousel of curiosities when the Wildlife Crime Unit – a branch of the Metropolitan Police cutting out the trafficking of animal-related products – finds a venue for a one-off display of some of the amazing items it has seized.

Organisers are looking for a home for an interactive exhibition to highlight the impact of crime on exotic animals whose populations are often already dwindling. It will also celebrate the resurgence of the Unit, whose modest team of one Police Sergeant, one Constable and a civilian police member appeared under threat themselves during the recent government funding cuts.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Richard Benyon fought to save the force in Parliament, causing the World Society for the Protection of Animals to step in and provide funding. The move is the first of its kind between a charity and the Met.

"We had the exhibition put together for our partnership launch, as we wanted to really bring alive the great work that the police do," said the Society's Katharine Mansell.

"But it seems a shame to simply put these pieces away, particularly when they tell such an interesting, little-known story of wildlife crime in our capital and the impact it has on some of the world's most iconic animals.

"It would be wonderful if a London museum wanted to take it on as a temporary – or even permanent – exhibit.

"Both the World Society for the Protection of Animals and the WCU are happy to do all we can to help make this a reality."

Museums have been particularly affected by rhino horn theft. Two weeks ago, a man was charged with the theft of two replica rhino horns from the Natural History Museum in Tring last year.

The Ipswich Museum suffered the loss of a horn from its rhino – acquired from the Natural History Museum more than a century ago – during a midnight raid last August, and dozens of incidents were reported across Europe last year, including a stun gun attack at the Museum of Hunting and Nature in Paris.

Stolen horns sell for huge prices in Asia, where they are valued for use in traditional medicine.

Simon Pope, the Head of External Affairs for the charity, said the expertise of the Unit has saved London from widespread wildlife crime.

"This is not some niche, illicit trade carried out by petty part-time villains," he explained.

"It is a major source of revenue for a global network of hardened criminals, gangs and drug lords, all growing rich from the trafficking of wildlife and not about to have a crisis of conscience and stop what they are doing."

The authority has seized more than 30,000 endangered species items since 1995, including thousands of pounds worth of raw ivory products, a range of UK-manufactured items including 24 whole elephant tusks, and the world's largest haul of rhino horn, in Kensington in 2011, which contained 129 individual horns.

The deal has allowed the Unit to employ a further Constable and civilian officer, guaranteeing its future as well as allowing the Society to share more than 30 years of wildlife protection experience.

"The knowledge contained in the Unit is an irreplaceable asset to London, national and international enforcement communities," added Pope.

"We know that our supporters and Londoners want to see wildlife criminals bought to justice, so it seemed vital now more than ever to safeguard the future of this specialist unit."

Ian Knox, the Sergeant who leads the Unit, said the Society had invested "a significant amount".

"The extra funding will pay for more staff so we can be more proactive in targeting criminals who seek to exploit animals for financial gain.

"We will also be able to provide additional support and training to Wildlife Crime Officers across London which will ensure that the Met has the capability to tackle crimes against animals in the future."

More pictures:

A photo of two people standing next to animal exhibits
Detective Chief Superintendant Steve Dower and Suzi Morris, the UK Director of WSPA, with some recovered artefacts at a launch event for the partnership in London© Christopher Ratcliffe
A photo of a police officer standing next to a stuffed Polar bear
Greenwich policeman PC Vee Gormany takes a look at a bear© Christopher Ratcliffe
A photo of a man in a suit standing next to a small stuffed tiger
Sergeant Ian Knox, the head of the Wildlife Crime Unit in the UK© Christopher Ratcliffe
A photo of a large animal tusk
Tusks worth £200,000 have been seized in the city. They will not feature in the exhibition for security reasons© Christopher Ratcliffe
A photo of a haul of seahorses
Ivory and horn, dried seahorses and Chinese medicines have all been recovered by the Unit© Christopher Ratcliffe
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