UK Government

UK Border Agency (National): Preston man jailed in rhino horn smuggling case

Press Release   •   Oct 06, 2010 11:09 BST

The failed plot to smuggle the valuable horns of a white rhino out of the UK through Manchester Airport has landed the perpetrator in jail for 12 months.

Donald Allison, 52, of Inglewhite, Preston, was sentenced today after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing to trying to smuggle the horns of an endangered species into the lucrative Chinese medicine market where the powdered horn is believed to cure cancer.

The horns, which sell for anything up to £60,000 a kilo, were removed from the body of Simba, a 41-year-old, white rhinoceros who lived at Colchester Zoo in Essex, where he died in April 2009. It was discovered the horns had been removed after his body was sent to be incinerated, as the law requires.

Officers from the UK Border Agency foiled Allison’s plans on 30 June 2009 after they followed up intelligence reports suggesting a plot to smuggle white rhino horns onto a flight from Manchester Airport to China via Amsterdam. The two horns were discovered concealed in Allison’s luggage within a specially constructed false Vienna Bronze sculpture of a bird on a log. The ‘log’ which was constructed from resin and fibreglass contained the two rhinoceros horns which were wrapped in cling film and tape.

The UK Border Agency’s specialist animal team arranged for forensic analysis and the results revealed that the horns belonged to the endangered white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) of Southern Africa, an animal protected under international law – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Using DNA samples the UK Border Agency investigation team were able to trace the horns back to Simba by matching blood samples still held by the zoo.

Colin Brown, the UK Border Agency’s Assistant Director at Manchester Airport, said:

“I am pleased that this individual has been brought to justice. The exploitation of endangered species for profit is a criminal trade and one that the UK Border Agency is committed to helping tackle.

“Had this plot been successful it would have fed demand for rare and exotic animals on the illegal world market and led to the further attempts at unscrupulous exploitation of endangered animals.”

In 2008-09 UK Border Agency officers seized was 61,402 CITES items.

Anthony Tropeano, Zoological Director of Colchester Zoo said:

“We are completely sickened by this and it is the last thing we thought could happen. Simba had been at Colchester Zoo for over 30 years and was greatly loved by staff and visitors alike. We followed all the regulations required when Simba’s body had to be sent to be incinerated and we are totally disgusted by this horrendous crime. We can only take comfort in the fact that the UK Border Agency managed to prevent Simba’s horns actually being used and that has resulted in this conviction.

“Preventing the horns being sold on to the illegal world market is vital to the long term conservation of endangered species and safeguards so many wonderful animals from being targeted and ensure they live safely whether in the wild, game reserves or zoos.”

Alan Roberts of the National Wildlife Crime Unit said:

"This case is an excellent example of the enforcement action being taken in an area of wildlife crime that we take extremely seriously. It is pleasing to see that both the smuggler and the supplier have been dealt with, especially in the light of the alarming upsurge in rhino horn trade and the potentially devastating effect on the wild population."

Allison pleaded guilty to the export offence in a hearing at Manchester Crown Court earlier this year (9 August). Essex Police also cautioned a 52-year-old man from Chelmsford for the illegal sale of the rhino horn.

NOTES TO EDITORS

1. To watch a video of Simba the Rhino’s story, visit our Youtube channel:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8cyuitzTVi0

To embed our video, just copy the code from the "Embed" box—you can find it in the "About This Video" box when you're watching the video. Once you've copied the code, just paste it into your website or blog.
If you require the video in an alternative format, please call Fiona Simpson on 0207 035 4072.

Photos of the Rhinos and the Rhino horn are available on our Flickr channel at:http://www.flickr.com/photos/49956354@N04/sets/72157624954974320/

2. The UK has been an active signatory to the CITES Convention since the 1970's. The UK policy lead on CITES issues is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). A Defra Agency, (Animal Health), has responsibility for the issue of import and export CITES permits authorising the movement of controlled goods. The UK Border Agency is the primary enforcement agency tackling the illegal movement of such goods across UK borders.

3. Since this case came to light the Government has announced plans to tighten controls on the export of all rhino horns. See press notice issued by Animal Health on 16 September 2010 – ‘Animal Health to Prevent Export of Rhino Horn from UK’

4. Simba arrived at Colchester Zoo in 1973 where he lived until his death in 2009. He was humanely put down in April 2009 following a range of age related health problems. His son Zamba still lives at Colchester Zoo, with Zamba’s mother Cynthia. For further information on Simba please contact Colchester Zoo on 01206 331292.

5. Press enquiries contact 020 7035 3819

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