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Last Updated: Thursday August 13 2009 12:10 GMT

Gavin looks into animal smuggling

Gavin at the animal holding centre at Heathrow Airport

Crackdown on UK animal smuggling

The demand for rare and exotic pets in the UK has resulted in an increase in the number of animals being smuggled into the country illegally.

Police say they're cracking down on the crime, but where do the animals that are discovered end up? Gavin's been finding out...


"Animal smuggling has always been a very highly paid crime for criminals across the world. Bringing in exotic species from abroad to sell on over here is worth big bucks.

I went to visit the animal holding centre at Heathrow - one of the busiest airports on the planet.

Gavin holding the tortoise as he tries to film a piece of camera

Tortoise has a surprise in store for Gavin

Any animals going through Heathrow are checked at the centre. That includes ones that are brought in legally, with all the right documents to prove it, as well as those that are found on people trying to smuggle them through.

All kinds of animals were being kept in the pen. There were dogs there, and also many types of bird. I think I made friends with a parrot that kept speaking Spanish to me!

Pocket terrapins

But many of the animals being held are rare, with some under investigation by the authorities.

They include tortoises, which are the most common, terrapins, rattlesnakes and lizards. I even caught a glimpse of some lemurs!

Gavin and a snake

What happened when Gavin met a snake?

Some of the stories I heard of people trying to smuggle animals in were mad.

One man once tried to hide a huge python in a bag around his waist. Another had rare terrapins in his pockets that could grow up to a foot-long over time.

It's hard for border control officials to know exactly how many animals are being smuggled into the UK, but when they're on these shores, they can sell to buyers for tens of thousands of pounds.

So it's certainly a crime to be taken very seriously."

Gavin