AUSTIN – Scores of illegal wildlife traffickers face federal and state charges for selling protected species online last summer. The cases result from a coordinated undercover law enforcement operation conducted simultaneously by Texas game wardens, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, other states and federal agencies, and three Asian countries.
Operation Wild Web, a coordinated effort between the USFWS and the other participating agencies, resulted in more than 150 arrests involving federal wildlife crimes.
“We are proud Texas played a vital role in this operation; we assigned 30 game wardens and led the nation in charges filed, including 61 state and federal cases,” said Grahame Jones, TPWD Law Enforcement chief of special operations. That included 20 cases in Houston, 16 in Austin, and 25 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“Texas game wardens, including our covert unit, have been steadily increasing their use of the Internet and technology in general to solve wildlife crimes, and I am extremely proud of their work,” Jones added. “This week, CNN reported the western black rhinoceros has officially become extinct. Unfortunately, that’s a very poignant example of why our officers focus on the sale of protected wildlife and wildlife parts. These are global problems that require team coordination with every state and nation.”
“Our message is simple and the same: The Internet is not an open marketplace for protected species,” said Edward Grace, USFWS deputy assistant director for law enforcement. “State partners were essential to the success of this operation, and that cooperation remains critical to disrupting wildlife trafficking on the Web and elsewhere.”
Wildlife and wildlife products seized in Texas during Operation Wild Web included a Russian Amur leopard pelt, Hartmann’s mountain zebra skin, hawksbill sea turtle, Texas tortoises (a threatened species), invasive freshwater stingrays, and numerous illegal and non-native invasive snakes.
“The unregulated commercialization of wildlife resources could lead to the loss of many of our state treasures, whether it is through the removal of native species or introduction of non-native invasive species that would harm native habitats or species,” said Capt. Greg Williford, who leads TPWD’s Criminal Investigative Division.
Seven cases were charged in Thailand and Indonesia where animals and parts of animals – such as leopards, tigers, great hornbills and Javan eagles – were sold through the Internet.
Federal laws regulating the sale of wildlife include the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (which both prohibit any commercialization of protected birds); the Endangered Species Act (which bans the interstate or international sell of listed species and most products made from them); and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (which limits the sale of most marine mammal parts and products, other than those crafted by Native Alaskans).