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Sunday, April 5, 1998 Published at 17:35 GMT 18:35 UK


Environmental crime - a global problem
image: [ This stuffed tiger cub was found in a London taxidermy shop ]
This stuffed tiger cub was found in a London taxidermy shop

Environment ministers meeting at the G8 summit in England heard that wildlife crime comes second only to the drugs trade in terms of cash value.

Figures from the British Central Office of Information show that every year as many as five million wild birds, 30,000 primates, 15 million furs, 12 million orchids, eight million cacti and countless other species are sold on the international market.

[ image: Turtles have been smuggled with drugs]
Turtles have been smuggled with drugs
Of the estimated 350 million animals and plants being traded worldwide every year, it is believed that 25% is carried out illegally.

There is also evidence of links with other organised crimes - consignments of snakes in the US have been found to be stuffed with cocaine, and illegally-traded turtles have been found on the same boat as hauls of marijuana.

Operation Charm, which was launched by London's Metropolitan Police in February 1995, resulted in the seizure of more than 20,000 items in its first two years.

Items seized included a variety of animal body parts, plants and manufactured products used in traditional Chinese medicines, for which species like tigers, rhinos and bears have been used for generations.

The trade has continued despite the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which was adopted in 1973 and now has 143 members.

The purpose of the convention is to regulate international trade in wildlife and wildlife products.

More than 800 animal and plant species are banned from international trade and a further 25,000 are strictly controlled by the convention and by European Union (EU) regulations.

[ image: Five million wild birds are sold each year]
Five million wild birds are sold each year
Another subject tackled by ministers at the conference at Leeds Castle, Kent, was the trade in gases which deplete the ozone layer.

The Montreal Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Substances which Deplete the Ozone Layer was first signed in 1987.

It protects the ozone layer by controlling the production and consumption of chemicals which destroy it.

The Protocol has now been ratified by more than 160 countries.

The production of CFCs, the main ozone-depleting substance, was phased out in 1995 within the EU, but CFCs continue to be widely available.

According to the Environmental Investigation Agency, which has compiled a dossier on CFC smuggling, 10,000 tonnes of illegal CFCs entered the US market via southern Florida between 1994 and 1996.

Almost all of these CFCs first passed through Europe. Current estimates of illegal trade within the EU are up to 6,000 tonnes of CFCs annually.


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