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Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Fighting the animal cruelty war
RSPCA officer
The RSPCA officer's identity remains a secret
BBC Wales's Roger Pinney reports on the subterfuge world of the RSPCA's first undercover officer.

Tony Saunders, a nomme de plume certainly but in his case a nomme de guerre too.

This is a man who has spent the last 13 years waging a personal war against those who abuse animals.

RSPCA logo
He was the RSPCA's first uncover officer
And there are times when the degree of cruelty almost defies description.

Although he now lives in Wales, from his accent, Tony Saunders' roots in Hull on the east coast of England are unmistakeable, but during his time as the RSPCA's first - and for many years only - undercover officer he was forced to adopt a wide range of personas.

The badger digger, dog fighter and more exotically the Ivory and wild animal buyer.

He has been forced to change his name more times than he cares to remember and, for security reasons, even today refuses to have his picture taken.

Tony Saunders interest in animals was apparent early on.

Life change

While his school friends in Hull were playing street football or cricket he was off in search of newts, snakes and lizards, and in those days without a thought for the moral or conservation implications of what he was doing.

But as he got ever closer to nature, he became ever more isolated from his contemporaries.

At school, Tony Saunders was the bullied outsider. One incident though was to change his life.

The death of a songbird he shot with an airgun and the self-disgust that was to follow.

On leaving school, a career in the Royal Navy was to end prematurely after a year because of discipline problems.

Ivory being weighed
He poised as a buyer of illegal ivory
His first job with animals and the RSPCA was as a kennel maid, a lowly start for the man who on behalf of the organisation was to go on to infiltrate the secretive gangs who use and abuse animals for fun.

From then on a steady but not always smooth rise through the ranks, he attracted UK wide attention as the RSPCA inspector who ironically was allergic to animals.

The big break came in 1988 with a transfer to the RSPCA's Special Operations Unit, it was a move which took him into the world of covert investigations, undercover surveillance, secret filming and recordings.

Breaking the badger baiting and dog fighting gangs meant infiltrating them, to do that he had to drink in the right pubs, meet the right people, associate with, befriend even, those who he was attempting to bring to justice.


The trail of traders in endangered species was to take him to the back-streets and bazaars of Cairo.

High octane stuff and not without its risks. It was a job Tony Saunders clearly enjoyed, but it was a job which also had a price.

He concedes that beyond his family he has few close friends. He has sacrificed a lot, put his professional life ahead of the personal.

Now settled in Wales, he has to continue to work to combat animal cruelty but no longer undercover.

Through his book "Baiting the Trap" Tony Saunders is looking for his next big break.

"Baiting the Trap: One Man's Secret Battle to Save our Wildlife" is published this week by Simon and Schuster price 16.99

BBC Wales's Roger Pinny reports
"His 13 years undercover have taken him across continents"
See also:

25 May 01 | Scotland
Pet cruelty study 'warning'
19 Dec 00 | Scotland
Cruelty case man faces arrest
22 Feb 01 | Sci/Tech
Call for action over wildlife
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