Today we’re hearing from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent James Dowd and the great effort brought forth by both state and federal agencies to put an end to illegal wildlife trafficking.
Of all the planet’s majestic wildlife, perhaps none is more recognizable or revered than the tiger. The largest and most powerful feline on Earth, tigers have symbolized strength and beauty in human culture for thousands of years. Sadly, it is these same qualities that have made tigers a victim of the illegal international trade in wildlife parts. Tigers have long been a valuable target for poachers looking to profit on the growing demand for their skin, bones, teeth, and claws. This demand is fueled by those seeking tiger parts for traditional Asian medicine, status symbols, or as decorative items.
The web has provided buyers and sellers of illegal wildlife with a vast global marketplace. The internet is fast becoming a wildlife junkyard, where our world’s most beautiful creatures are reduced to parts and sold for profit. As more people purchase tiger parts, the demand rises, leading to more poaching. This deadly cycle, along with the loss of critical habitat, has pushed tigers to the brink of extinction.
It is estimated that fewer than 4,000 tigers are left in the wild. In an effort to combat the numerous threats facing the global tiger population, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) list tigers as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. This classification provides numerous protections, including outlawing the sale or offer for sale of tigers and their parts in foreign and interstate commerce. Similarly, many states also prohibit the commercialization of federally listed endangered species and their parts.
In 2014, a Massachusetts Environmental Police (MEP) Officer and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent from the Boston field office conducted a joint investigation into the online advertisement of tiger claws by a Massachusetts resident. During this investigation, the undercover FWS special agent engaged in online communication with the seller. A $1,200 sale price was agreed upon and an in-person meeting was scheduled. However, this meeting did not go as planned for the seller. After meeting with the undercover FWS special agent, the seven tiger claws were seized by the MEP officer and the seller faced multiple state charges for attempting to sell parts from a federally listed endangered species. In the subsequent court proceeding, the defendant admitted to sufficient facts on a state charge relating to his attempted sale of the seven tiger claws and one American black bear claw. The resulting sentence included community service, six months’ probation, and $1,000 in restitution to the Massachusetts Heritage Endangered Species Program.
This investigation underscores the importance of joint investigations between federal and state conservation law enforcement agencies. State conservation law enforcement personnel often lack the time and resources to combat illicit online sales of protected wildlife in their state. Likewise, FWS special agents require the support of their state and local counterparts when conducting field activities such as undercover operations. This collaboration was one battle victory in the ongoing war against the illegal trafficking in tiger parts.