Pets or meat: Investigators allege reptile smuggling
DEC, numerous agencies round up 18 following two-year operation
By BRIAN NEARING, Staff writer | 3/20/2009 | The Times Union
Eighteen people have been charged for allegedly selling protected wildlife though the Internet and at collectors shows.
Investigators documented more than 2,400 illegal sales and are now holding 400 animals as evidence, poisonous snakes and snapping turtles.
Most of the arrests took place within the metropolitan New York area and lower Hudson Valley, although a Ballston Spa man, Sean Kirk, 34, was among those charged. Kirk allegedly sold three Eastern Box turtles captured in New York state to a DEC undercover investigator for $550.
Investigators showing off the animals seized in the probe say dozens of endangered rattlesnakes were hidden in the door panels of a minivan and smuggled from Canada in exchange for timber rattlesnakes, a threatened species in New York.
Several rattlers were on display at a morning news conference, and the sound of the agitated snakers' rattles could be heard.
The DEC worked with wildlife officials from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Florida as well as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Service, Environment Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.
The investigation was into the illegal wildlife trade was sparked in 2006, in part by a complaint from Buffalo State University, which had reported that a population of 30 turtles, some embedded with radio transmitters, suddenly vanished. Those turtles have never been found.
Some of the animals found in the investigation were prized by collectors, particularly venomous snakes, while others, including turtles, were sold for meat, particularly in the Chinese market.
State officials found that a legitimate turtle farm in Louisiana was "laundering" illegally captured turtles before shipping them to China.
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