Illegal wildlife trade increasing in Texas


by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and photojournalist DEREK RASOR

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndyP_KVUE

Posted on February 3, 2014 at 7:20 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 4 at 11:07 AM

A KVUE Defenders investigation uncovered a growing number of Texans busted for illegally selling wildlife on the black market and little regulation to stop it.

One case involved an undercover sting which caught a Dallas-area man selling several reticulated pythons, a non-native snake from Southeast Asia that can grow up to 20 feet long.

"He’s always biting me. He's crazy aggressive right now," said the seller, talking about a python in the hidden camera video.

Investigators with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department charged the man with selling exotic wildlife without a permit.

The 2012 bust is part a growing problem in Texas. In 2010, TPWD investigated 160 cases involving the black market wildlife sales. In 2013, the cases increased to 200.

Some other animals the state confiscated include anacondas, fresh water sting rays and piranhas. Some buy them as pets, while others breed them for profit.

TPWD investigator Greg Williford believes the state’s environment could be at risk if the animals escape and breed.

In Florida wildlife officials say pythons have nearly killed off several species of rabbits and foxes in the Everglades. Even alligators can fall prey to the large snakes.

Williford says it could happen here. "I know a lot of good-intentioned folks just want them for pets, but when you talk about a snake that can grow up to 20 feet long and has a pretty significant feed bill, sometimes people are not equipped to care for them, and we're concerned where they may end up,” said Williford.

The illegal animal trade is a $20 billion industry and investigators say selling online makes it easier and more profitable.

"They're just a dollar sign to somebody, not an essential being as far as that person is concerned," contends Lynn Cuny. She runs the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation about 50 miles south of Austin.

Many of the animals in the sanctuary include species not native to Texas purchased on the black market and then neglected by owners.

There are large enclosures full of different species of monkeys and even two lions.

"These animals are victims. No two ways about it. They are victims of greed. They are victims of what humans want. It's wrong, and it should be stopped," said Cuny.

One way to stop it, Cuny says, is to increase penalties. In Texas most fines for illegally selling wildlife run between $25 and $500. The state agency can only charge suspects with misdemeanors, which rarely carry jail time.

Williford admits there’s little incentive not to sell. "I'd say there is very little determent not to do this. Whether legally or illegally."
It’s not illegal to own many non-native species in Texas, but buying them from a licensed dealer is required.

TPWD says a permit allows the state to better track animals in case there’s an outbreak of a disease.

Go here to see part 2 of this investigation.

Learn more about the confiscated exotic species below.