Operation Jungle Book Targets Wildlife Trafficking, Leading to Federal Criminal Cases and Recovery of Numerous Animal Species
October 20, 2017
16 Defendants Prosecuted in Initiative Led by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
LOS ANGELES – Operation Jungle Book, a law enforcement initiative led by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service that targeted wildlife smuggling, has resulted in federal criminal charges against 16 defendants who allegedly participated in the illegal importation and/or transportation of numerous animal species – including a tiger, monitor lizards, cobras, Asian “lucky” fish, turtles, exotic songbirds and several coral species.
“We are combatting an ever-growing black market for exotic animals. An insatiable desire to own examples – both living and dead – of these vulnerable creatures is fueling this black market,” said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown. “This is a truly international problem that threatens the survival of iconic species and vulnerable animal populations. The United States Attorney’s Office is prosecuting a wide array of cases that highlight the pervasive problem of wildlife trafficking and the associated issues of invasive species, disease transmission and the extinction of certain species.”
In conjunction with the announcement of the criminal cases filed by federal prosecutors based in Los Angeles, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is holding a media event today to showcase the broad range of species that are being smuggled into the United States and recognize its law enforcement and community partners who provide substantial assistance in the fight against wildlife trafficking.
“Wildlife trafficking does not stop at international borders, and it is our duty to protect imperiled species both at home and abroad,” said Ed Grace, USFWS Acting Chief of Law Enforcement. “I commend our special agents who worked collaboratively with our state and federal partners to investigate, arrest, and prosecute these criminals. I would also like to thank the zoos, sanctuaries, and educational centers that shelter, care for, and rehabilitate the live animals we seize. Together, we are saving imperiled animals while bringing to justice those who attempt to profit from the illegal wildlife trade.”
At today’s media event, USFWS officials will be joined by representatives of the United States Attorney’s Office, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW). Some of the animals that have been recovered are currently being cared for by the Los Angeles Zoo, the San Diego Zoo Global, the Turtle Conservancy, and the STAR Eco Station – organizations that will also be represented at today’s event.
Over the past several months, prosecutors from the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section of the United States Attorney’s Office have filed and litigated a series of cases that demonstrate the scope of the underground market for protected wildlife. The cases further illustrate the various means used by traffickers to avoid detection in the harvesting and illegal smuggling of various species.
The black market for protected wildlife increases the demand for wildlife and their parts, which threatens to decimate vulnerable species. The prosecution of these cases will educate the public about the laws protecting wildlife and deter future wildlife crimes.
A Florida man was arrested yesterday afternoon on charges of being involved in the illegal sale and transportation of a Bengal tiger that was seized from a residence in Ventura County.
Nicholas Bishop, also known as “Nick the Wrangler,” 27 – who currently resides in Hollandale, Florida, but at the time of the offense lived in Henderson, Nevada – was named in a criminal complaint filed late last month that charges him with the federal felony offense of aiding and abetting the purchase of a prohibited wildlife species. The State of California also prohibits the possession of tigers and other large cats (certain licensed individuals and organizations have exceptions).
According to the affidavit in support of the complaint, Bishop falsified documents used to purchase the tiger in March 2014 from an Indiana organization called Wildlife In Need, Wildlife Indeed. In a statement he later gave to investigators, Bishop said that he had purchased the tiger for Michael Ray Stevenson, a rapper who uses the stage name Tyga.
The following month, the tiger was seen in a backyard in Ventura and reported to the DFW, which later located and seized the animal in Piru. The two individuals who possessed the tiger in Piru were convicted in state court. When it was recovered, the tiger weighed approximately 100 pounds; it now weighs well over 400 pounds.
Bishop allegedly falsified purchase records and caused the interstate transport of the tiger without the necessary documentation and permits required by the USFWS and the United State Department of Agriculture.
Bishop was taken into custody yesterday afternoon. He is expected to make his initial court appearance this afternoon in United States District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. If he were to be convicted of the criminal charge, Bishop would face a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.
Operation Jungle Book’ leads to federal criminal charges against suspected wildlife traffickers
Tiger cubs were among the confiscated animals shown at a news conference in Torrance on Friday. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)
Venomous king cobra snakes packed into potato chip cans. Asian songbirds bound and stuffed into a suitcase. And a Bengal tiger cub driven in a vehicle from Indiana to Ventura County. These are just some of the ways people have smuggled protected wildlife into Southern California.
On Friday, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials announced that 16 people have been charged and about 200 animals seized in recent months as part of “Operation Jungle Book,” the largest wildlife trafficking sweep in Southern California history.
“We are combatting an ever-growing black market for exotic animals,” acting U.S. Atty. Sandra R. Brown said in a statement. “An insatiable desire to own examples — both living and dead — of these vulnerable creatures is fueling this black market.”
The service held a news conference Friday at its Torrance facility to raise awareness and to try to deter wildlife smuggling. Operation Jungle Book also included trafficking in coral and bald eagle feathers.
Asst. U.S. Atty. Amanda Bettinelli, who worked on the investigative team, said authorities have seen a recent uptick in wildlife trafficking. Operation Jungle Book, which was conducted between May and early October, was an effort to crack down on such crimes.
The number of shipments of animals “we get on a weekly basis here in the Port of Los Angeles is pretty shocking,” Erin Dean, resident agent in charge of the service’s Southern California region, said. “It’s all about money.”
Despite the threat of prison time, smugglers take the risk because of a lucrative black market, authorities said.
In May, Kurtis Law, 50, of Orange County, was arrested on allegations of smuggling 93 Asian songbirds, worth nearly $100,000, on a flight from Vietnam, authorities said. Bound and stuffed into boxes in suitcases, only eight of the birds were still alive by the time they were discovered at Los Angeles International Airport.
This week, Law was ordered to serve one year in federal prison.
Gayle Simpson, 33, of Inglewood pleaded guilty last month to smuggling five monitor lizards, worth an estimated $1,500 to $2,000, from the Philippines. Authorities intercepted the package, which was addressed to Simpson’s son and labeled “speakers.” Two of the lizards were dead and another had a crushed foot.
Simpson faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
On Thursday, a Florida man was arrested on charges of falsifying documents to purchase a Bengal tiger from an Indiana wildlife sanctuary in 2014 and transporting it to Ventura. Nicholas Bishop, 27, who also goes by “Nick the Wrangler,” said he had bought the tiger for rapper Tyga.
The tiger cub, 3 to 6 months old at the time, was first spotted in a Ventura backyard, before it was moved to Piru, authorities said. The tiger had been held in a crate.
If convicted, Bishop faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Protected Arowana fish were among the 200 confiscated animals from Operation Jungle Book. In one instance, authorities noticed a leaking package labeled “Porcelain Herbal Pots” and found eight of the fish in bags of water inside porcelain pots.
In some parts of Asia, the protected Arowana fish are thought to be symbols of luck and prosperity. They can fetch thousands of dollars in the underground market.
On display at Friday’s news conference were several confiscated animals (though not all were from Operation Jungle Book), including a hyacinth macaw, a ploughshare tortoise and two tiger cubs.
After their interception, confiscated animals are placed with accredited zoos and sanctuaries, such as the Los Angeles and San Diego zoos and the Turtle Conservancy in New York.
US wildlife officials conduct Operation Jungle Book, largest animal-smuggling crackdown in LA history
Friday, October 20, 2017
LOS ANGELES (KABC) —
Operation Jungle Book, which has led to 16 arrests, is the biggest animal trafficking sweep in Los Angeles history, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Rare and endangered animals including tigers, monitor lizards, spotted turtles and arowana, or “lucky” fish, were seized by authorities at LAX and other points of entry.
One of the animals recovered was a Bengal tiger cub that was seized by U.S. Customs officials after an 18-year-old Perris man tried to smuggle the animal across the California-Mexico border.
The tiger is now being cared for at the San Diego Zoo. U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials said this is just one battle in a war against a growing black market for exotic wildlife. Rare exotic animals, brought into the country illegally, are worth thousands of dollars.
“This is all about money,” said Erin Dean, of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “The illegal wildlife trade compares to drug smuggling, and arms smuggling, human trafficking. It is about the almighty dollar.”
The 16 people arrested are facing federal charges. Wildlife officials said animal smuggling carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
450-pound tiger seized in ‘Operation Jungle Book’ housed in San Diego
LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A 450-pound Bengal tiger seized as part of a federal operation targeting wildlife smuggling is being cared for at an animal rescue facility in San Diego County, officials said Friday.
The tiger was purchased in March 2014 from an Indiana organization called Wildlife In Need, Wildlife Indeed by a man who allegedly used false documentation to make the buy for a rapper friend, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Nicholas Bishop, also known as “Nick the Wrangler,” was arrested Thursday on federal charges of being involved in the illegal sale and transportation of the tiger that was seized from a home in Ventura County, prosecutors said.
The 27-year-old defendant was named in a criminal complaint filed late last month that charges him with the felony offense of aiding and abetting the purchase of a prohibited wildlife species. The state of California also prohibits the possession of tigers and other large cats, although certain licensed individuals and organizations have exceptions.
Bishop — who currently lives in Hollandale, Florida, but at the time of the offense lived in Henderson, Nevada — told investigators he purchased the tiger for Michael Ray Stevenson, a Compton rapper who uses the stage name Tyga, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In April 2014, the tiger was seen in a backyard in Ventura and reported to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, which later located and seized the animal. Two people who possessed the tiger were convicted in state court, officials said.
When it was recovered, the tiger weighed about 100 pounds; it now weighs about 450 pounds, prosecutors said. Officials did not identify the San Diego County animal rescue facility that currently has the animal.
Federal officials announced the case Friday as part of Operation Jungle Book, a law enforcement initiative led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that resulted in criminal charges against defendants across the Southland.
Those facing charges allegedly participated in the illegal importation and/or transportation of numerous animal species — including monitor lizards, cobras, Asian “lucky” fish, exotic songbirds and several coral species.
“We are combating an ever-growing black market for exotic animals. An insatiable desire to own examples — both living and dead — of these vulnerable creatures is fueling this black market,” acting U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown said.
“This is a truly international problem that threatens the survival of iconic species and vulnerable animal populations,” she said. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is prosecuting a wide array of cases that highlight the pervasive problem of wildlife trafficking and the associated issues of invasive species, disease transmission and the extinction of certain species.”
Some of the animals that were recovered are currently being cared for by the San Diego Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo, the Turtle Conservancy, and the STAR Eco Station.