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July 11, 2013

The Humane Society of the United States Joins Forces with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to Crack Down on Wildlife Trafficking

Operation Wild Web results in numerous federal and state charges

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California were lead players in a successful crackdown on wildlife crimes, resulting in dozens of individuals being charged with trafficking in wildlife products.  Specially trained volunteers from The Humane Society of the United States helped law enforcement conduct Internet searches to uncover these criminal activities in an investigation called “Operation Wild Web.” The operation, publicly announced by authorities today, took place over a two-week period in August 2012 and netted 154 ‘buy/busts,’ 30 of which are alleged federal crimes and the rest are state violations.  

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO for The HSUS said: “The amount of wildlife available for sale via the Internet is staggering, and enforcement activities must increasingly concentrate on this arena of commerce if we are to protect wildlife from cruelty and maintain the viability of species. We applaud the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state fish and wildlife agencies, and U.S. Attorney André Birotte, Jr. for their continued commitment to protecting wildlife.”

Over a two-week period, 40 volunteers from The HSUS produced leads that enabled investigators to quickly make contact with sellers, saving law enforcement significant time and resources for field investigations. Investigators with FWS and state agencies, led by FWS deputy resident agent in charge Ed Newcomer made undercover purchases of illegal wildlife items offered for sale online in 16 states and three Asian countries. 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 many of the federal cases.

Items seized in the investigation included a fur from an endangered jaguar offered for $19,000 on Craigslist and a live western scrub jay, a federally protected bird. The scrub jay was taken out of the wild when an individual cut down a tree containing the bird’s nest. Unfortunately, the bird had to be euthanized due to deformities from untreated broken bones that prevented the bird from being returned to the wild or taken to a sanctuary.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Texas Parks and Wildlife played major roles in the operation in their respective states. 

The HSUS partnered with USFWS in 2011 for a smaller-scale investigation known as “Operation Cyberwild.”

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: Kaitlin Sanderson: 240-672-8397; ksanderson@humanesociety.org

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