Scores of wildlife traffickers face federal and state charges for selling protected species online last summer. The announcement today follows a coordinated undercover law enforcement operation led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and involving officers from 16 States, three Federal agencies, and three Asian countries.
Operation Wild Web resulted in 154 “buy/busts” in the United States: 30 involving Federal wildlife crimes and 124 for violations of State wildlife laws. It also exposed online trafficking of live birds and tiger and leopard pelts in Southeast Asia, where enforcement agency participation was coordinated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN)
“Our message is clear and simple: The internet is not an open marketplace for protected species,” said Edward Grace, the Service’s Deputy Assistant Director for Law Enforcement. “State partners and our ASEAN-WEN counterparts were essential to the success of this operation, and that cooperation remains critical to disrupting wildlife trafficking on the Web and elsewhere.”
Over a 14-day period running from August 8 through August 22, 2012, approximately 70 Service special agents and conservation officers from State wildlife agencies across the country teamed up to investigate illegal online commerce in wildlife. Agents from the National Park Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration helped staff some of the 14 “taskforce” groups operating in the United States. Wildlife officers in Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia simultaneously ran their own in-country Operation Wild Web taskforces targeting illegal wildlife internet sales.
The operation also benefited from the support of the Service’s Intelligence Unit, and was aided by non-investigative assistance from the Humane Society of the United States and the International Fund for Animal Welfare here in this country and by the Freeland Foundation and Wildlife Conservation Society in Southeast Asia.
Wildlife and wildlife products seized by Service agents during Operation Wild Web included the pelts of endangered big cats such as Sumatran tiger, leopard and jaguar; live migratory birds; sea turtle shells and sea turtle skin boots; whale teeth; elephant ivory; migratory bird mounts; walrus ivory; and other items. The intercepted transactions involved more than $60,000-worth of wildlife contraband.
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 sale of listed species and most products made from them); the Marine Mammal Protection Act (which limits the sale of most marine mammal parts and products, other than those crafted by Native Alaskans); and the Lacey Act (which makes it a federal crime to transport wildlife or their products across state boundaries if they have been sourced in violation of state law).
Federal prosecutions based on Operation Wild Web have been completed or are being conducted by the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California and other U.S. Attorney Offices throughout the United States. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Texas Parks and Wildlife and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission played major roles in the taskforce operations in these states.
Additional photographs of seizures available at www.fws.gov/operationwildwebrphotos.html.
Logo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service