Illegal corals valued at 50,000 have been seized from Manchester Airport in the UK's largest ever seizure of CITES listed corals destined for the aquarium trade.
The corals, which are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) were discovered in an air freight consignment at Manchester Airport and had been shipped to the UK from Malaysia.
An investigation into the illegal shipment, which took place in September 2007 is ongoing. Details on the consignment have been kept confidential during this period to allow further investigations to be carried out.
Dealers warnedFollowing the discovery Customs officers attended a number of premises in Manchester, Cheshire, West Midlands, Northamptonshire, Yorkshire and Scotland issuing warning notices to an aquarium wholesaler and a number of aquarium traders across the UK in relation to the seizure.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) Head of Detection North West, Linda Paul said: "HMRC takes its role in enforcing international agreements and prohibitions designed to preserve our natural environment very seriously. Anyone tempted to trade in protected creatures and plants should think again."
She added: "In addition, information is available on the HMRC website on the type of souvenirs, made from animals or animal products, which cannot legally be brought back into the UK from abroad. The illicit trade in endangered animals is one of the most serious global problems of our time. Not only does this crime endanger our planet, but it could mean that some animals disappear for ever."
Blatant attemptThe corals were falsely declared on the Customs import declaration, in an attempt to allow banned species, including Catalaphyllia jardinei, Trachyphyllia geoffroyi and species from the Plerogyra genus, to enter the UK masquerading as unprotected species.
Charles Mackay, the Head of the HMRC Specialist CITES Team which is based at Heathrow said: "The vast majority of the aquarium import trade is carried out quite legitimately, however this was quite clearly a blatant attempt to smuggle banned and unlicensed corals into the UK in order to profit from the higher prices they would fetch.
"HM Revenue and Customs will continue to crack down on the illegal international trade in wildlife and plants to safeguard endangered species which are threatened with extinction."
The shipment, which is the largest ever seized in the UK, contained many rare species which are banned from import into the EU. HMRC claims that the market value of the 350 corals and clams is near 50,000, making the average price per specimen around 142.
The corals and clams in the shipment were transported to London Zoo, where they are now thriving in its aquaria.
All hard corals and giant clams are strictly regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).