The sick trade is netting crime bosses £100 million a year, second only to drug trafficking in profitability.
Customs officers have seized 80 tonnes of rare species parts in just three years concealed in ship containers, vans, luggage and plane cargo.
The 100,000 items included lions’ paws and gorilla feet, elephant ivory and a snow leopard and a whole polar bear skin.
Impounded rhino horn alone was worth over £1 million.
It can now can fetch £40,000 per kilo – more than diamonds or cocaine.
Nearly 3,400 live endangered animals have been discovered including drugged baby leopards, chimpanzees, Indian Star tortoises and a cheetah.
Exotic pet owners and collectors are buying over the internet, ebay and Facebook.
There is also a huge demand for Chinese ‘miracle cures’ in the UK which use exotic animal body parts.
Interpol says the UK is now a major centre for wildlife crime which is worth £12 billion worldwide – making it the second biggest global blackmarket, behind the illegal drug trade.
Parliament’s Environment Audit Committee named the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa as a major sources of animal parts.
Our investigation found rebels were kidnapping villagers to work as slaves in the animal trade.
Schoolboy Eric Tanzole told how fighters from the FDLR, a rebel group fighting to “free” neighbouring Rwanda, forced him to become a child soldier and then cut up two elephants and a gorilla.
The 10-year-old said: “They said I’d be killed if I did not help them.”
Eric, who later escaped, added: “I didn’t want to hurt the animals. I had to cut off the gorilla’s feet.”
In other atrocities, four people were burned alive in a house and a girl hung from a tree.
Victim Marc Ukello, 61, said: “They hacked at women holding babies with machetes. They beat us and made us work as porters.”
FDLR leader Felix Mahoro boasted to the Mirror: “We can make £40,000 from an elephant. We control the forests and kill anyone who gets in our way.”
The United Nations says another notorious rebel group, the Lords Resistance Army is also killing animals for parts.
The UN say 30,000 elephants are butchered every year.
The trade is funding wars with al-Qaeda backing gangs who have killed 700 rhinos.
But the law is catching up with some.
Graham Pitchforth, 61, and wife Norah, 68 from Wakefield, West Yorks were given five-month suspended sentences in 2010 for importing a dead lion cub, sea otter, monkey and flying foxes.
They sold them on eBay making £2,400 profit.
In 2011, police raided a ‘zoo of death’ in St Helens, Merseyside finding a stuffed cobra, black bear, baboon skins and two stuffed Bengal tigers. A 45-year-old man was arrested and bailed.
Eight British zoos, auction houses and museums have been robbed.
Detectives recently received tip-offs that poachers were planning to shoot rhinos at wildlife parks in Kent to steal their £110,000 horns.
Seven rhinos at Colchester Zoo in Essex have 24-hour guards.
Detective Inspector Nevin Hunter of the UK Wildlife Crime Unit said: “Gangs have tried stealing old horns from stately homes. We’re worried a live rhino could soon be killed in a zoo.”