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January 6, 2012

The HSUS Joins Forces with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for “Operation Cyberwild”

First-of-its-kind investigation leads to multiple arrests for illegal Internet trafficking of wildlife

The Humane Society of the United States applauds the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California for leading a crackdown on the illegal wildlife trade, “Operation Cyberwild,” with the assistance of specially trained HSUS volunteers who conducted Internet research on the trafficking in wild animals.

Twelve individuals were charged with wildlife crimes, relying on evidence collected during July 2011 when USFWS special agents and a warden from the California Department of Fish and Game conducted an investigation into the illegal sale of wildlife over the Internet.   

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Investigators with USFWS, led by Ed Newcomer, deputy resident agent in charge,  made undercover purchases of illegal wildlife items offered for sale online over a two-week period. Items included an endangered tiger skin rug, a migratory bird mount, a live migratory bird, an elephant skin foot stool, a leopard skin and a bear skin. Six California-based volunteers from The HSUS produced the leads that enabled investigators to quickly make contact with sellers, saving significant time and federal agency resources for field investigations.  Led by Chief Attorney Joseph Johns, the environmental crimes section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California is prosecuting the federal cases.

“Most Americans would be shocked at the sheer volume of illegal wildlife items readily available online, and this crackdown sends a strong message to would-be traffickers that the wanton exploitation of wildlife won’t be tolerated,” said Jennifer Fearing, California senior state director for The HSUS. “Wildlife law enforcement agencies are increasingly facing budget cuts, making it even more challenging to combat the rampant illegal trade in wildlife. The HSUS applauds the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Attorney André Birotte, Jr. for this innovative, strategic partnership, and we are so pleased with its success.”

Offering wildlife or their parts for sale creates a demand that puts wild populations at risk and can cause immense suffering for individual animals. Forty-six wildlife items were seized as part of “Operation Cyberwild.” The defendants have been charged with violations of the federal Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Lacey Act, as well as with several violations of state law.

Facts:
• Globally, the illegal trade in wildlife is estimated to be a multi-billion dollar a year industry.
• The United States is the second largest importer of wildlife after China.
• The HSUS runs a nationwide anti-poaching program focused on supporting state and federal law enforcement agencies in their efforts to combat poaching and the illegal trade in wildlife.
• The HSUS’ global affiliate, Humane Society International, runs a consumer education campaign called Don't Buy Wild which urges consumers to avoid supporting the cruel and unsustainable trade in wild animals and their parts.

For more information about poaching, visit humanesociety.org/poaching.

Media Contact: Stephanie Twining, 301-258-1491, stwining@humanesociety.org

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