eBay seller pleads guilty to illegally trading endangered animal skulls

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A collector who illegally traded the skulls and skeletons of endangered animals on eBay without the correct documents has today pleaded guilty.

Michael Tang, 49 from Cardiff, became the subject of a police investigation after he listed a monkey skull for sale online under the username ‘Zoskiapare.’

When officers visited his home, he showed off his vast collection of specimens including a taxidermied rhino head, skulls of primates and gorillas, a dolphin skull, rare turtle shells - and a cabinet of human skulls.

skulls

Analysis of his eBay account showed that between August 2014 and August 2018, Tang had sold a large mammoth fossil tooth and an armadillo shell, among other endangered specimens.

Although trading these items is not illegal in itself, an exemption certificate is needed to buy or sell any specimen from an animal that is endangered, or immediately threatened with extinction.

Stephen Head of the CPS said: “Tang filled his home with ageing animal skulls and skeletons. The controls in place for trading endangered animal specimens are vital to safeguard animals that are increasingly at risk of being wiped out completely.”

Tang did not have the required documentation for the specimens in his home and failed to secure the necessary permits for importing or exporting endangered animals. He confirmed selling the specimens without the relevant documentation and today pleaded guilty to 24 offences in relation to the trade of endangered specimens at Cardiff Crown Court.

Today’s plea comes as the CPS has updated its guidance on Wildlife, Rural and Heritage crime. The changes include an update on breaches of conservation of habitat and species law as well as guidance around surveillance when someone is suspected of committing an offence.

Gerallt Evans, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS Wales said: “We take crime against wild animals, especially protected animals, incredibly seriously and take every step we can to secure convictions in these cases. The impact that these crimes have on our environment and our communities cannot be understated, why is why we’re committed to building cases against offenders and ensure they’re held to account for their actions.”

Wildlife, Rural and Heritage Crime at the CPS

The CPS Prosecutors and Coordinators are working hard across the country to prosecute wildlife, rural and heritage crimes. In September, Tom Fielding pleaded guilty to failing to report treasure contrary to section 8(1) and (3) of the Treasure Act 1996 - the first ever conviction under this legislation. Fielding ran a metal detecting club and three people found gold coins in close proximity. Two of the detectorists notified the relevant authorities, but Fielding failed to do so, and was sentenced to 100 unpaid community service and ordered to pay compensation to the victim and costs to the CPS.

In January this year, the CPS prosecuted Jeffrey Lendrum, 56, for smuggling protected bird eggs into the UK and he is still serving a three year sentence for this. In the same month, five men were imprisoned for badger baiting offences and banned from owning any animals for the next 10 years. Meanwhile in April, Landrose Developments were issued with a £18,000 fine for destroying a breeding site of the Soprano Pipistrelle bats, after demolishing a building where they knew the bats were roosting.

Read more about how we prosecute wildlife, rural and heritage crime

Notes to editors

  • Stephen Head is a Senior Crown Prosecutor in CPS Cymru-Wales
  • Michael Tang (DOB: 23/11/69) pleaded guilty to 17 counts of ‘purchasing a specimen of a species listed in annex b which had been imported or acquired unlawfully, 'contrary to articles 8(2) and 16(1)(j) of council regulation (ec) no 338/97 and paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the control of trade in endangered species regulations 2018’
  • Tang has also pleaded guilty to 7 counts of ‘fraudulent evasion of a prohibition/restriction, contrary to section 170(2) of the customs and excise management act 1979.’
  • He was given a 12-week custodial sentence suspended for 12 months and is required to do 120 hours of unpaid work and pay £1200 court costs
  • The updated CPS guidance can be found here: Wildlife crime, hunting crime, heritage crime

Further reading