Ever wondered what happens to the confiscated illegal wildlife products you see in the news? In the United States, they all go to one place: the National Wildlife Property Repository in Commerce City, Colorado.

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Illegal purses, clothing and specimens sit in the repository warehouse. Image: The Atlantic/Screengrab

"We have crocodile purses, alligator skin boots, traditional medicine, hunting trophies ... if you can imagine it, it’s probably here in some form or another," says Wildlife Repository Specialist Doni Sprauge. "I don’t think people realise the volume that wildlife and plants are used in [illegal] trade ... people will buy just about anything."

The repository currently houses over a million wildlife products confiscated from around the US – all of which will eventually be destroyed or used for education. The haunting collection offers a glimpse of just how many different animals are affected by the $23 billion illegal trade market. 

"When I open a box and I see the diversity [of life] ... the thing that goes through my mind is 'How can there be anything left living?'," Sprauge says.

The repository is doing its part to make sure wild animal populations have a chance: also on site is the National Eagle Repository, which provides a legal means for Native American and Alaskan Native tribes to acquire feathers for traditional dress and religious ceremonies.

Any time a bald or golden eagle turns up dead around the country (often after collisions with cars or planes), federal law mandates that bird be immediately sent to the repository. The programme processes and distributes 2,300 to 2,400 eagles per year, which drastically reduces hunting pressure on wild populations. 

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Wildlife Repository Specialist Dennis Wiist processes a bald eagle. Image: The Atlantic/Screengrab
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A bin representing the 25-year stockpile of ivory that was crushed at the repository in November 2013. Image: The Atlantic/Screengrab
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A tiger fetus that was removed from the mother before birth. Image: The Atlantic/Screengrab
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It takes between 15 and 20 animals to make one leopard-skin coat. Image: The Atlantic/Screengrab

Top header image: USFWS Mountain-Prairie

h/t The Atlantic