Police have called on charities that support endangered species to be alert for suspicious people who ask for personal visits to their offices.
Sergeant Ian Knox, head of the Metropolitan Police Wildlife Crime Unit, issued the warning after he received a two reports from animal protection charities of suspicious visits by members of the public.
He said there was no evidence at this stage to suggest these men were intending to commit crimes. But because there had recently been a spate of thefts of rhino horns from private collections across the UK and Europe, he recommended that other charities be vigilant.
"This has happened at two charities, close in time to each other, so we wanted to alert other similar charities," Knox said. "Charities that deal with endangered species issues should be alert to people contacting the charity – particularly if they ask for a physical visit to the charity offices and that is not normal practice.
"They should be alert to the fact they might find themselves targeted by people who are not what they seem."
Cathy Dean, director of Save the Rhino, which is based in south London, said she received a call earlier this week from two men who insisted on coming to the charity’s offices to give a cash donation.
She said that when the men arrived they asked strange questions and did not seem to listen to the answers. She said they did give a donation and enquired about volunteering for the charity, but refused to leave any contact details.
She said she later called the police and had since heard that another charity that works with endangered species received a similar call on the same day. "It’s definitely suspicious, but it’s hard to know yet if they’re targeting all charities or just wildlife charities," she said. "Staff safety is my main concern."
Susan Sharafi, administration officer for the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, also based in south London, said that earlier this week it received suspicious calls from two men who wanted to come to the charity’s offices to make donations. She said the charity refused to let them do so and suggested they post the donations instead.
Knox said that if any other charities had concerns they should contact his unit on email@example.com.