US border officials have caught an accused wildlife smuggler allegedly attempting to cross from Mexico to the United States with more than 50 reptiles in his clothing, just a day after he was charged with trafficking up to 1,700 animals to the US
The man, a US citizen, was arrested on February 25 on charges of attempting to cross the border at the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry, which connects Tijuana, Mexico, to San Diego. Border officials stopped the man, and an in-person search turned up 52 living reptiles — nine snakes and 43 horned lizards – Inner pockets hidden in the man’s jacket, trouser pockets and groin area, according to a statement from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
“Smugglers will do everything possible to get their product, in this case live reptiles, across the border,” Sidney Aki, CBP’s director of field operations in San Diego, said in the statement. Concealing the reptiles in clothing puts the health and safety of the animals at risk, Aki added.
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The man was identified as a 30-year-old California resident, according to the information The San Diego Union Tribune. On February 24, the smuggler and his sister were indicted by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles for running a massive wildlife trafficking ring. The pair were accused of smuggling around 1,700 animals worth around $739,000 into the United States turtlesmonitor lizards, iguanas, chameleons and baby crocodiles. Many of the species they smuggle are classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Investigators with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) allege that Perez advertised the smuggled animals on multiple Facebook pages under a false name. He is said to have made 36 crossings in San Ysidro in the past year, many of which have been tracked by posts on Facebook. Most buyers were probably unaware that the animals were imported illegally, as they were shipped in FedEx boxes with special labels by a company called Reptiles Express, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Investigators say messages from the defendant’s phone allegedly show he also had other smugglers working for him, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. “Thank God they didn’t find anything,” wrote a suspected smuggler in 2016. “That’s why I always say turtles are risky. They are bulky. I was nervous today but stayed cool.”
The San Ysidro border crossing is the fourth busiest border crossing in the world, with an average of 70,000 vehicles and 20,000 pedestrians crossing the border every day, according to the US General Services Administration. As a result, the crossing is a major hub for the illegal wildlife trade. In the past, officials have confiscated tiger Boys, parrots and fighting cocks, as well as animal products, including fish bladders, turtle eggs, ivory and whale bones, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
“We will continue to take aggressive action against individuals engaged in the illegal smuggling and trafficking of endangered wildlife for their own financial gain,” Chad Plantz, the special agent in charge of HSI in San Diego, said in the statement.
Originally published on Live Science.
Man caught at Mexican border allegedly had more than 50 reptiles stuffed into his clothing Source link Man caught at Mexican border allegedly had more than 50 reptiles stuffed into his clothing