Dozens of crocodiles destined to be bred for meat in Cambridgeshire have been seized at Heathrow Airport.
The 50 juvenile saltwater crocodiles had arrived on a cargo flight from Malaysia and were found by staff from City of London Corporation who were making welfare checks on the shipment.
They found that the animals, which had been destined for a farm in Cambridgeshire where they were to be bred for their meat, were not packed in accordance with regulations and reported the matter to specialist Border Force Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) officers. The discovery was made at around 11am on Friday 27 April.
The live consignment, weighing around 40kgs, was in five boxes. Although a CITES permit was in place, which allows the transportation of live animals, the permit had been invalidated because of the way the crocodiles were transported. A specific condition of the permit is that they are transported in accordance with International Air Transport Association (IATA) regulations. Each box had sufficient room for four crocodiles but 10, foot-long crocodiles had been placed in each one. They were also not separated from each other which is a requirement under IATA regulations. Any breach of the IATA regulations means the CITES permits are not valid and the importation is not legal. The regulations are in place to ensure the welfare and safe transportation of animals by air freight.
Grant Miller, head of the national Border Force CITES team at Heathrow, said: "It is just not acceptable for reptiles to be transported in this way.
"The crocodiles had started to fight each other during the flight as space was limited, so little attention had been paid to their welfare.
"We will seize anything that contravenes CITES regulations, so this should serve as a warning to those thinking about transporting wildlife in such conditions."
Andrea Gruber, International Air Transport Association’s head of Special Cargo, said: "The IATA Live Animals Regulations are the worldwide standard for transporting live animals by air and have been established to ensure all animals are transported safely and humanely. Industry must comply with the Regulations, which are enforced by government authorities. Any failure to meet with the existing requirements can impact animal safety and welfare."
One crocodile has since died and the remaining animals are being cared for and will now be re-homed.