Taxidermist who posted bragging selfies with stuffed endangered animals jailed
A sick taxidermist who posted selfies with stuffed endangered animals is behind bars today.
Aaron Halstead took pictures of himself roaring alongside the head of a tiger, riding a giraffe, wearing a leopard skin ladies coat with beaver skin trim...and even driving a car with a stuffed zebra in the back.
The 29 -year-old swimming instructor was secretly exploiting the popularity of creatures to make a killing online out of selling stuffed animals...mainly to wealthy Chinese businessmen.
In Whatsapp messages he told a supplier: ‘My guy will only buy them if they have all original teeth.’
Halstead paid 9,000 euros for 16 tigers skulls so he could sell them online.(Image: Arron Halstead/ Cavendish Press (Manchester) Ltd)
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He also arranged to meet a client face to face in Paris as part of an 80,000 euro deal for two black Rhino horns, telling one associate: “I must be mad. I’m in France meeting the Chinese mafia.”
Halstead, of Burnley, Lancs, was detained by police in 2018 over concerns he was buying and offering for sale endangered species over the internet over a nine year period.
He had already been jailed for 24 weeks in 2015 after officers discovered he had illegally acquired three sperm whale teeth, plus the skulls of a cheetah and a dolphin.
He had also offered a snowy owl for sale without proper permits and he was cautioned for selling stuffed birds from endangered species in 2011.(Image: Lancashire Police)
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Paperwork showed he had made at least £99,000 over one four-year period, although many of his transactions were done in cash.
Yesterday Halstead was locked up for another 56 weeks after he admitted illegally trading in black rhino horns, tiger skulls, and tiger teeth between September 2014 and January 2018.
The offences contrary to the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) 1997 carry a maximum sentence of five years jail.
The court heard married Halstead was a solo trader in endangered and antique stuffed and preserved animals and skins.(Image: Arron Halstead/ Cavendish Press (Manchester) Ltd)
He operated via a website and a ground floor room in his parents’ house.
On social media he calls himself Halstead Taxidermy and he has posted scores of images showing of stuffed tigers, bears, an orangutan and elephant feet.
He was initially arrested following raid on the house in 2011 but he escaped with a caution after claiming he was a student who sold taxidermy to assist him fund his studies.
But in 2013 officers carried out another raid and found three sperm whale teeth, a cheetah’s skull and a dolphin skull plus a stuffed snowy owl.(Image: Arron Halstead/ Cavendish Press (Manchester) Ltd)
Adrian Farrow prosecuting said: “He was jailed in 2015 but following his release he continued to trade in taxidermy specimens and used the business website, as well as social media platforms such as Instagram and WhatsApp.
“He had extensive conversations on WhatsApp with an individual identified as Sietse in relation to tiger skulls which Sietse was able to supply.
“In September 2017, he wrote: ‘My guy will only buy them if they have all original teeth’ and there was discussion around the availability of tiger teeth, skeletons and other specimens, including rhino horn. Sietse had offered to supply 16 tiger skulls and suggested a price of €16,000.
“The defendant responded: ‘The average I can get for a set of 4 complete canines is £700. I then have to get replicas made and try to make some money myself by selling that. But I can’t even sell tigers here legally the price is way too high, I’m afraid.’(Image: Arron Halstead/ Cavendish Press (Manchester) Ltd)
“The defendant offered 8,500 Euros for 10 original tiger skulls and a deal was eventually struck at 9000 Euros. The description ‘wood carving’ was agreed in relation to the payment for the tiger skulls.
“Two boxes containing the 10 tiger skulls were delivered by courier to the defendant and he sent on two images showing a total of 10 tiger skulls to a man which were clearly the items he had just received.
“This transaction reflects the acquisition by the defendant of a significant quantity of a protected species from within the EU, which he intended to trade commercially and utilizing methods to disguise the true nature of the transaction.
“The defendant also revealed that he had recently obtained two rhino heads. He discussed his plans to remove the horns which are very much sought after on the illegal market and the skulls, then attach replica horns in order to resell the heads as visually complete items, although in fact, the skins would be filled with foam.(Image: Arron Halstead/ Cavendish Press (Manchester) Ltd)
“In October 2017, in a WhatsApp chat, in answer to an enquiry from an individual using the name ‘Mike Vdb’ about an “original rhino with horn”, the defendant wrote: ‘You are just in time! I have a black rhino, mounted. I have Chinese customer who usually buys them, but I only bought it last week. I bought it in an auction for £27,500. So I need a profit.’”
One WhatsApp exchange showed Halstead engaging with an associated called ’German’ about undertaking an illicit delivery of two rhino horns and getting a further 2,000 euros in travel expenses to Paris. Halstead offered to take one of the horns to France for verification - leaving the the other in the UK. In a message he said: ‘I they want to pay me, I can take the risk and meet them in France’.
The prosecutor said the German described his client as ‘Chinese rich’ and added: ’Once he pays u the reserve and sees the pieces he will be calling his client to tell him that all is good and that the pieces are fine, Then u both travel to Paris and until u get your money in the bank u dont have to give them nothing, they pay your time in Paris and once u have also the bank transfer cleared u give them the horn and that’s all I guess.’
Halstead’s home and business premises was raided in January 2018 after he offered rhino horns to a customer who contacted him via Instagram over the sale of Sawfish. Police found a sperm whale tooth and a sawfish plus three elephant tusks - two of which were mounted on a wooden base.(Image: Cavendish Press (Manchester) Ltd)
The tusks belonged to a man who inherited the specimens from his uncle. It emerged halstead had bought from him a leopard head, leopard skin and two tiger cub heads. Halstead initially denied wrongdoing.
In mitigation defence lawyer Mark Stuart said: “He had a long-standing interest in taxidermy which he got from his grandfather buthHe became greedy and disconnected from what he was doing. If he had bought the rhinoceros and then sold them as he had bought them it would not have been illegal. However he removed the horns, weighed them and sold them at home and abroad.
“This was a ridiculously stupid and greedy decision. He finds it difficult to explain why he did this but he did do it. He dissolved the company in January 2019 and has not traded since October 2018.’’
Judge Robert Altham told Halstead: “You decided to flout the law deliberately and cynically so you could make money. You were a well organised professional and used your legitimate business as a cover.(Image: Lancashire Police)
“You knew the risks you were taking and the harm caused but you were prepared to take those risks for financial gain. This was an organised and international trade in times committed at high prices. It was brazen, persistent and well organised criminality.”
Lancashire Police said it is believed Halstead's latest conviction will make him the first person in the UK to be imprisoned twice for offences under the regulations of the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) 1997.
Halstead will return to Preston Crown Court in January for a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing where police intend to apply for a Serious Crime Prevention Order and a confiscation order for all items seized.
If it is successful, it is hoped some of the items will be donated to museums, while others will be used by the Lancashire Constabulary Rural Crime and Wildlife Team during their educational roadshows across the county.(Image: Lancashire Police)
Andy McWilliam, investigations officer for the National Wildlife Crime Unit, said: "This is the third occasion that I have dealt with Halstead for similar offences in under 10 years.
"He is an extremely knowledgeable individual, but sadly his main concern is profit.
"He is well aware that some of the species he profits from are threatened with extinction.
"He is also aware that these species are protected by international law.
"He knows that is feeding a demand and that his illicit trading may have a direct impact on the survival of some of the world's most threatened species.
"The sentence imposed on Halstead should be a warning to anybody who chooses to trade illegally in endangered species."(Image: Lancashire Police)
PC Nigel Keates, a Lancashire Constabulary wildlife officer, welcomed today's sentence, which he said "comes at the end of a long and complex investigation."
He added: "Halstead profited from trading in the world’s critically endangered species and his actions were both selfish and abhorrent.
"I hope this conviction and subsequent sentence sends out a strong message that Lancashire Constabulary will not tolerate this kind of behaviour and will follow the evidence to all corners of the globe when investigating offenders who seek to benefit from this despicable trade."
Supt Andrea Barrow, of East Lancashire Police, said the force took "all forms of wildlife crime seriously".
She added: "I’m sure this case, involving critically endangered species, will be particularly concerning for the wider public.
"This investigation is a great example of partnership working and I am pleased we have managed to bring this individual to justice."