>> You're looking inside an evidence lock-up near one of the world's busiest airport, London's Heathrow. The exact location can't be disclosed for security reasons, but it's where Britain's border enforcement agency keeps contraband seized as part of its battle against wildlife smuggling. Among these racks is one class of item that by some measures dwarfs all the rest, even though it's largely been kept from public view, so-called traditional medicines, also called folk medicines containing wild life tissue as a key ingredient.
I'm Reuters' Matt Larotonda and this is border force investigator Jan Soa. What are some of these things that we're looking at here?>> Well, this is a representative collection of different products, which contain endangered species. This one here, it's a Chinese medicinal plaster and it's got a picture of a tiger on the front but it actually does contain tiger bone and musk deer species which are endangered.
>> Folk medicines like these represent 42% of all wildlife-related seizures in the European Union alone. It's closest competitor? Ivory, at a distant 14%. Medicine doesn't get the same attention as big photo-op catches like ivory or live animals, but the United Nation estimates these illegal remedies are worth some $3.4 billion globally.
They're shipped as finished products, but also as raw materials like these pangolin scales. China captured a record haul just last week. Southeast Asian states like China and Vietnam are the dominant exporters and also importers. Remember that tiger salve? As populations of the big cat dwindle in Asia, poachers are turning to African lions as a cheap alternative.
But multiple NGOs and government agencies have told Reuters, the illicit trade is broadening its reach.>> Range of medicines and herbal supplements that we're confiscating has expanded from the Asian medicines into products, in particular which come from countries like the United States, which are health supplements, bodybuilding aids, that sort of thing.
There's been a big increase in that.>> Smugglers know what's legal and what's not, and often these goods are found on unsuspecting travelers or traders who don't realize what they're carrying. This tonic, with a whole endangered cobra inside, is sold to tourists in Asia. Note the English lettering.