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Trader fined for selling seahorse extract at Elephant & Castle

A Chinese medicine trader who sold sexual enhancement pills containing seahorse extracts has been fined by magistrates after a keen-eyed detective spotted her illegal products on sale.

Detective Constable Louise Morris, of the Metropolitan Police's wildlife crime unit, was walking through the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre on her way to work in July 2013 when she spotted a stall run by 46-year-old Mongolian national Lu Yao.

Perturbed by the pills on display, which she suspected contained endangered species derivatives, DC Morris and her colleagues began investigating.

On 29 August 2013 they executed search warrants at the stall and a shop owned by Yao, on Deptford High Street.

They seized approximately 100 pills. The ingredients of the products were translated from Chinese and it was discovered that the pills contained extracts of seahorse, which is protected under the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). CITES protects more than 5,600 animals and 30,000 plants.

Yao was summonsed to appear at Bromley Magistrates' Court on Tuesday where she pleaded guilty to five counts of purchasing/offering to purchase/sell/keep for sale species protected under CITES.

She was sentenced to 200 fine for each product, 85 prosecution costs and 100 victim surcharge – a total of 1,185.

DC Sarah Bailey said: "Most traditional Chinese medicines are generally legal, but Yao's contained extracts of a protected species.

"The illegal trade in endangered species threatens the existence of some of our most iconic and well-loved animals and plants. We continue to work closely with the Chinese medicine industry to tackle this issue.

"I also urge anyone who has suspicions about products they have seen on sale I to contact the police."

Alyx Elliott, wildlife campaign manager at World Animal Protection, said: "Detectives of the wildlife crime unit are at the forefront of the wider battle against wildlife crime, and it is heartening that their enforcement efforts are being backed up by prosecutions and sentences.

"This case emphasises the sheer diversity of wildlife crime in the UK and London, and also the continuing threat it poses. In this regard the public can play a key role supporting the wildlife crime unit's huge efforts to tackle the trade by similarly reporting to report anything suspicious that they might see for sale to their local force."

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