STATE WILDLIFE OFFICIALS CONTINUE TO FILE CHARGES IN ILLEGAL WILDLIFE TRADE INVESTIGATION|
Wildlife officers conduct "Operation E&T" to protect endangered and
COLUMBUS, OH - Ohio wildlife officials continue to issue summonses
to individuals in and out of the State of Ohio as part of a multi-state
effort launched on June 28 to crack down on the illegal sale and possession
of endangered reptiles and amphibians.
The Ohio portion of the multi-state enforcement action has so far
resulted in 153 charges being filed against 28 individuals, according to the
Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). State and federal wildlife
officials titled the investigation "Operation E&T" in reference to its
efforts to protect endangered and threatened wildlife species. Results of
the investigation have been forwarded to the appropriate U.S. Attorney's
Office for possible future federal charges.
The undercover investigation by the ODNR Division of Wildlife was
conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the
departments of natural resources in the states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and
The cooperative investigation, initiated from public complaints,
focused on the illegal sale of native reptiles and amphibians in Ohio and
"It is important that Ohioans continue to be able to enjoy our
state's wildlife diversity," said Law Enforcement Supervisor James Quinlivan
of the ODNR Division of Wildlife's District One Office. "It became apparent
that laws designed to protect Ohio wildlife were being blatantly
disregarded, and native Ohio reptiles and amphibians were being illegally
taken from the wild and sold for profit."
Many violations allegedly occurred at reptile shows held in
Columbus, Ohio and locations in Michigan and Indiana. The violations
involved the unlawful interstate and intrastate commerce of federal and
state-protected species; the unlawful collection and possession of native
Ohio reptiles and amphibians taken from the wild; possession of wild animals
without proper permits; and failure to keep accurate animal records.
Depending on the violations, these misdemeanor charges carry maximum
penalties of up to $1,000 in fines, 120 days in jail, and restitution for
the wild animals illegally taken or possessed.
The ODNR Division of Wildlife will also seek felony indictments
against individuals involved in the unlawful sale of wild animals whose
value exceeded $1,000. These fifth-degree felonies carry a maximum penalty
of up to $2,500 in fines and one year in jail.
In 2000, the ODNR Division of Wildlife strengthened regulations
concerning the possession and trafficking of native Ohio reptiles and
amphibians. The updated laws protect and conserve native reptiles and
amphibians, while maintaining options for their use for educational
Undercover officers posed as dealers, trappers, and customers in the
sale of reptiles and amphibians. State wildlife officers monitored
approximately 50 individual dealers and collectors allegedly involved in the
unlawful commercialization and taking of species such as spotted turtles,
Blanding's turtles, fox snakes, black rat snakes, Eastern massasauga
rattlesnakes, timber rattlesnakes, Eastern box turtles and spotted
salamanders. Individuals under investigation also allegedly dealt in
federally protected species such as Indian pythons and indigo snakes.
So far hundreds of reptiles and amphibians, including non-venomous
and venomous snakes have been recovered. Included in the recovery of
venomous snakes was a black mamba, a species native to Africa which is
considered one of the world's most poisonous and aggressive snakes.
Ohio laws allow for the possession of limited quantities of some
native species of reptiles and amphibians taken from the wild, and for the
possession of animals by educational institutions. Snakes legally obtained
from out-of-state or animals produced in captivity can be sold or traded.
Proper permits from the ODNR Division of Wildlife are required in most
"We encourage people to enjoy Ohio's wildlife, including our
interesting reptiles and amphibians. However, problems arose when
individuals would not follow our permitting process, and animals were
illegally taken or possessed," said Quinlivan.
Many of the species sold for hundreds of dollars each. One of the
dealers allegedly paid $25,000 for several illegally-collected snakes, and
another sold more than 80 spotted salamanders allegedly taken from the wild.
A collector contacted by undercover officers allegedly captured more than
2,000 snakes in just three days.
Law enforcement officers believe these illegal wild-caught animals
were then funneled into the pet trade, many going out of state.
"Illegal collection and commercialization could potentially
seriously harm wild populations of these animals here in Ohio and throughout
the Midwest," said Quinlivan. "And the more rare or unusual the animal, the
more prized and higher the price paid. The amount of money involved was