20 July 2012

DEFRA's Raids

Pet stores and wholesalers across the country have been targeted in a series of raids by police and DEFRA officials searching for illegal tortoises. The raids, which have been called 'heavy handed and unnecessary' by industry experts are the latest in an escalating crackdown on the sale of tortoises in the UK.

September's PBW reported that tortoise traders are being caught out by DEFRA's poorly administrated CITES regulations. Since then it has emerged that retailers and wholesalers across the country are being raided by up to a dozen officials.

Reptiles Plus was one of four shops in the Poole Bournemouth area to be raided by a team of eleven consisting of uniformed police, plain clothed police, DEFRA and the RSPCA. Reptile Plus owner Ian Burdell told us that his small shop was filled for over an hour whilst his stock and paperwork was checked. Ian said "It would take 10 minutes and one person to check my paperwork was in order. An hour's worth of eleven people, fluorescent police uniforms, photographer and the RSPCA can only be described as overkill. We normally have a good relationship with all of these agencies"

He added "I am surprised that so much public money is being wasted. We only have six Article 10 tortoises in stock!"

We spoke to several other traders, none of whom wished to be named fearing further discrimination. One said "They came without a warrant and questioned my staff whilst I was out. They took the CITES paperwork for my Hermann's tortoises away with them. Of course, everything was in perfect order. The certificates were bought back some days later and just thrown onto the desk without a word being said."

Another said "We were visited by ten police and DEFRA officials who parked three police Land Rovers, a police van and a couple of DEFRA 4x4's outside my shop. We had done absolutely nothing wrong but any customers must have thought that we were part of some kind of massive smuggling ring. It is a disgrace that a publicly funded body such as DEFRA is dedicating so much money and resources in a futile search for illegal tortoises. There is no mass trade in illegal tortoises. It is ridiculous to even imagine that there could be given the size of the tortoise trade and the small sums of money involved."

Chris Newman of REPTA (Reptile and Exotic Pet Trade Association) told PBW that raids were not only occurring across the UK and also in Europe too and that traders should be on their guard.

Chris also warned that there appear to be yet more changes and conflicting guidance from DEFRA regarding Article 10 admin.

"Retailers selling these tortoises to the public are apparently required to photocopy CITES certificates and send the original back to DEFRA. This is new news for traders who have been following different DEFRA guidelines for years. Given that photocopying CITES documents has previously resulted in fraud prosecutions it is no wonder that traders do not know where they stand."

Nevin Hunter is head of DEFRA's compliance division. He said "We can confirm that there have been a series of CITES compliance visits throughout the UK. Visits involved agencies other than Animal Health Wildlife Inspectors. I would like to add that the situation is not quite as simple as it would first appear. We should be able to make further detailed comment in the coming few weeks."

Other sources report a team of between six and eight police and wildlife officials at the International Herpetological Society show.

No arrests have been made and no illegal tortoises have been found as far as PBW is aware.

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