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Operation Charm: Dying for a Cure - MET Tackles Wildlife Crime

A major Metropolitan Police initiative against the illegal sale of endangered species in London's Chinese medicine shops is launched today with the support of the Chinese community and Britain's leading wildlife charities. The new initiative will see a tough new focus on Chinese medicine practitioners selling goods that are made from, or even claim to be made from, endangered species. The launch takes place at New Scotland Yard at 11am today, and is run under the banner of Operation Charm, by the MET's Wildlife Crime Unit.

Through a hard-hitting poster campaign, the MET and its Operation Charm partner organisations are aiming to raise awareness and stress the public responsibility not to purchase goods that may contain endangered species. The MET's Wildlife Crime officers have been contacting businesses all over London with an Operation Charm Sticker Scheme, so that businesses can display a sticker supporting the campaign. A new website is also launched today at www.operationcharm.org.

While most of London's Chinese medicine retailers are reputable and do not sell illegal items, there is a growing market in products that are destroying some of the world's most charismatic and endangered animals.

These include products made from tiger bone, rhino horn, bear bile, and musk. Largely as a result of illegal trade, there are now estimated to be fewer than 5,000 tigers left in the wild - down from an estimated 100,000 in 1900 - and at least one per day is being poached to satisfy the growing demand for tiger bone in Chinese medicine. Also, since 1970, 98 per cent of the world's black rhino have been wiped out because of demand for their horn - a trade driven by Chinese medicine.

Andy Fisher, head of the MET Police's Wildlife crime unit said: "It is quite unacceptable that illegal acts in London are contributing to the decline of creatures like the tiger. In Operation Charm we want to stop the illegal trade in these animals in London. Anyone who persists in doing so could spend five years in prison."

Barry Gardiner, Minister for Biodiversity, Landscape and Rural Affairs said "This operation sends a clear message to the criminals who seek to profit from trading in endangered species. Their activities will not be tolerated. They will be investigated, prosecuted, and punished.

"Operation Charm is an excellent example of partnership working between the police and other organisations. We can make an impact on wildlife crime only by continuing to work closely together." The event will also be attended by members of Operation Charm's partner organisations - wildlife charities WWF-UK, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Active Conservation Awareness Programme (ACAP) and the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF).

Actor and comedian Ricky Gervais has also added his weight to the campaign. He said "I find it incredible that any one would want to buy a product containing endangered animals.

"It's not just illegal, it's sick and perverse. And don't think you can ease your conscience with 'It was already dead' or 'It's old or second hand'. To purchase such goods is perpetuating and endorsing the market in killing species. Report any activity you think is linked to such revolting business."