By Kevin Heath
Once again magistrates and the courts in Britain have failed to take the illegal trade in endangered species seriously. This time a trader of endangered tortoises got away with nothing more than a conditional discharge at Slough Magistrates Court. And it comes barely weeks after a high profile conference in London concerned with trading of endangered species.
Again the illegal traders in Britain are hiding behind what appears to be good causes. This latest incident involves Graham Martin, 36, of Furze Platts, Bracknell who traded endangered spur-thighed and Hermann’s tortoises while at the same time passing himself off as a reptile rescuer by operating the Berkshire Reptile Rescue in Bracknell.
We’ve seen this before in the UK – where illegal wildlife traders try and pass themselves off as caring for animals and birds while all the time caring about nothing but the money that comes with trading CITES protected species.
Just a few months ago there was the case of Andrew McManus-Dunkley who operated the Banwell Falconry in Smallway and used it as a cover to illegally sell unregistered birds of prey. Then magistrates issued nothing more than community service despite McManus-Dunkley being a repeat offender.
One of the biggest issues with wildlife trafficking is that it is easy to do and when caught there is little in the way of punishment. That lack of punishment and deterrence is clearly in place in the UK where the courts and magistrates clearly do not take seriously the impact of the illegal trade in wildlife species on natural populations.
There are many NGO’s and international organisations such as INTERPOL that go into developing nations to help the legal system put in place robust and high quality systems in order to protect wildlife – perhaps the time has come for UK magistrates and the legal system to also receive the same sort of help and advice. It is hard to imagine how the UK can be advising the Kenyan legal system and court system on how to tackle the wildlife trade when our own court system is incapable of taking the crime seriously.
In the latest case, involving Graham Martin, a 12-month conditional discharge and £265 in costs will do nothing to stop others from being attracted to the lucrative world of wildlife trading.
Martin admitted the prohibited sale of protected species in Furze Platts last February as well as the unlawful use of protected species for commercial gain in Aldershot, Hampshire, in September 2012, and Wooburn Common, in Buckinghamshire, in November 2012.
The spur-thighed tortoise is classed as vulnerable in the IUCN Red List and protected by Appendix II CITES.
Hermann’s tortoise is classed as Near Threatened in the IUCN Red List and is covered by Appendix II CITES and Annex A of EU Wildlife Trade Regulations.