Hippo teeth, walrus horns, tortoises and big cats are among some of the endangered animal items being smuggled into Britain, border officials have said.

The Home Office has revealed that more items were confiscated between Apr 2012 and Apr 2013 than in any other year.

Other contraband included rhino horns, £4,000 (€4,779) shawls made of Tibetan antelope wool and books bound in elephant hide.

A Rolls Royce upholstered in alligator skin and a piece of artwork featuring a rare £35,000 rock pigeon clutched between the jaws of a human skull were also seized, as well as eight live big cats and 466 Hermann’s tortoises.

Grant Miller, the senior officer on the Border Force CITES team, said: “We have everything from rhino horn to ivory to the taxidermy items and marine species that we see being brought back into the UK, both in passengers’ luggage — but more importantly, and in large quantities, through freight.”

Items are confiscated at the border under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).

The 2012/13 year saw 690 items seized — up from 509 the previous year — and included 3,890kg of medicine containing extracts of endangered species, 326 ivory items and 93 live animals.

In a secret climate-controlled warehouse, shelves overflow with items waiting for CITES experts to see if they fall under the treaty.

Snakeskin and crocodile skin high heels, pinned butterflies, and boxes of health and bodybuilding supplements are piled alongside bags of animal hides and turquoise snakeskin hotpants.

On one shelf is a tiny stuffed tortoise, looking like a toy; nearby a larger marine turtle imported through Dover as a souvenir, its insides hollowed out.

Jan Sowa, who works with the CITES team, said: “I’m not surprised by anything any more.”

One piece of ivory taken from a baby elephant was painted black to disguise it as a wooden artifact, while 12 bangles were wrapped in raffia.

But Mr Miller said the biggest shift has been in the beauty and fitness industries, where endangered species once used only in folk medicines are being sold as bodybuilding supplements and facial creams.


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