Almost anything is available for sale over the Internet now—and tragically that includes rare and protected animals, their parts, and products made from their parts like fur coats, boots, and trinkets. Given the convenience and relative anonymity of online sales, markets for illegal wildlife and their parts are flourishing.
While this proliferation of illegal wildlife items in online marketplaces is life-threatening and often species-threatening for so many animals, there are people fighting these abuses. Wildlife law enforcement agents and prosecutors have been ramping up their efforts, and we are helping them. And we are also taking notice of their much-appreciated efforts.
Much of the tireless, and often thankless, work to crack down on wildlife crime happens behind the scenes—wildlife law enforcement agents go undercover to purchase illegal wildlife items, and prosecutors methodically build cases as the evidence is gathered. On Tuesday, The HSUS gratefully acknowledged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, and the California Department of Fish and Game with our prestigious Humane Law Enforcement Awards for their involvement in Operation Cyberwild.
Operation Cyberwild was a successful investigation into illegal online wildlife trafficking that pulled 46 wildlife items from the marketplace and resulted in 12 people being charged with state and federal wildlife crimes.
These wildlife law enforcement agents and prosecutors don’t owe their effectiveness to any abundance in resources—quite the opposite, actually. They do their work on a shoestring, trying to combat a multi-billion dollar industry.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife has just about 250 special agents to cover the entire country and its ports. The California Department of Fish and Game has the smallest warden force per capita of any state. There are just small units of prosecutors dedicated to environmental and wildlife crimes.
Operation Cyberwild was unique because it got an invaluable assist from specially-trained Humane Society of the United States volunteers who searched for and found online violations. We were so grateful to U.S. Fish and Wildlife team lead, Special Agent Ed Newcomer, and USFWS' leadership and creativity to bring in The HSUS to augment their professional capacity with volunteers, allowing these wildlife criminals to be brought to justice.
U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, André Birotte, spoke at the ceremony on Tuesday and praised this unique collaboration. While it was too late for many of the animals seized as part of Operation Cyberwild, justice had to be served. And this sort of crack-down puts other potential traffickers on notice that they, too, will eventually be caught and that our moral concern extends to animals in the wild. We will do our best to defend these creatures.
Those honored on Tuesday with 2012 Humane Law Enforcement Awards include:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife: Deputy Resident Agent in Charge Ed Newcomer, Resident Agent in Charge Erin Dean, Special Agent Elvin Monge, Special Agent Scott Allee, Special Agent Jimmy Barna, and Special Agent Gregg Burgess.
U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California: U.S. Attorney André Birotte. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph O. Johns, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rupa Goswami, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Bettinelli.
Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office: Deputy District Attorney Dan Wright.
California Department of Fish and Game: Lt. Rebecca Hartman accepted on behalf of an undercover warden.