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When is selling furs through Craigslist a federal crime?

When the furs are from a Sumatran tiger and a jaguar. If you sell pelts or other parts of such animals, you could be charged with illegal killing of or trade in endangered animals. Six Californians were recently arrested for federal offenses involving endangered animals this week after undercover agents ran a two-week sting operation called “Operation Wild Web” to crack down on the illegal trafficking of wildlife on Internet sites such as Craigslist.

According to reports, federal agents, in cooperation with similar agents in three Southeast Asian countries, purchased at least 150 illegal wildlife purchases during the sting, including the aforementioned tiger and jaguar skins, a seal fur, a Native American doll made of whale bone, and a number of endangered migratory birds. Trade in endangered animals is a violation of the federal Lacey Act, and selling any species of migratory bird is a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. They are also violations of international treaties.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles has charged a Huntington Beach couple of selling the skin of a Sumatran tiger for $8,000. The cats are so endangered that only 500 remain alive in the wild. If they are convicted, they could each face up to a year in federal prison.

A Hacienda Heights man allegedly sold the skin of a jaguar, which has been on the endangered species list for 40 years. An Encino man allegedly sold three mounted migratory birds. The sale of even legally hunted migratory birds cannot be sold under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Another man is accused of violating that same law by selling two Western scrub jays.

Perhaps the most serious case is against an LA-area antiques dealer. He is accused of selling a seal fur and a pair of seal fur moccasins, which apparently amounts to a felony offense under the Lacey Act. He also sold the whale bone doll, two other Native American dolls, and at least one seal-fur bag. If he is convicted, he could be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, trade in endangered animals is among the most lucrative trades in smuggled items, along with electronics and illegal drugs.

While the goal of protecting endangered species through enforcement of U.S. law and treaty obligations is important, most of those arrested were apparently not engaged in wildlife trafficking. Instead, most of them seem to be individuals who owned the items and may not have been aware that selling them was a federal offense. Do we truly want our law enforcement agencies spending time and money chasing down individual sales on Craigslist?

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Six Face Animal Smuggling Charges,” July 12, 2013

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