Halting This Evil Trade
Lean, Geoffrey, The Independent (London, England)
When customs and excise officers raided Nicholaas Peters' remote house in Powys, Wales it was, as Chester Crown Court was told in May, like "walking into a dead zoo". There were freezers stuffed with the skins and skulls of endangered animals and birds, while other threatened species were found pickled in jars. Among the 500 specimens taken from the house, in Aberhafesp, near Newtown, were the skulls of a Siberian Tiger and a Philippine monkey-eating eagle, both of which are trembling on the brink of extinction: only 200 of the tigers and just 100 of the eagles survive.
Documents showed that Peters, a Dutch-born taxidermist, was exporting the skulls to two US dealers - trading as The American Headhunter and Skulls Unlimited - and that one of his "suppliers" was prepared to kill wildlife to order. He was jailed for two years.
The verdict was one more success for one of the world's most unusual detective organisations TRAFFIC or the Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna. A couple of weeks after the court case, Dutch police seized 445 rare orchids from a car in the town of Tilburg. Two weeks before, Indian officials had discovered 230 Alexandrine Parakeets - highly prized for their ability to mimic human speech - during a raid in the Punjab. On another occasion, a man was caught at Perth airport, Western Australia, with 29 rare parrots' eggs in his vest - this interception led to the closing down of an international smuggling ring. The investigators might seem to provide good material for a feature film or television series, but they remain little known outside conservation circles. Every year up to $5 billion worth of endangered animals and plants are traded illegally. A dagger with a handle made of rhino horn can fetch large amounts of money in the Middle East, as can a single rare cactus in the United States, and a coat made of endangered Clouded Leopard skin in Japan. …