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Sea turtle boots, leopard skin coat turn up in cyberbusts

U.S. Department of Justice

These sea turtle leather boots were sold to undercover agents for $1,000, officials said on Jan. 6, 2012.

Twelve people were charged Friday with trafficking in endangered wildlife -- from live animals to sea turtle boots and leopard skin coats. The suspects all used websites to sell their wares, authorities said in Los Angeles in announcing the results of "Operation Cyberwild."

"We made our first undercover purchase within 24 hours of beginning the operation," Erin Dean, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent, said in a statement (which includes the names of all 12 defendants). "We hope that this operation will send a message to individuals selling – or even considering selling – protected wildlife that we are watching and that we take these offenses seriously."

"The sale of endangered animals on the Internet has reached an alarming level, with as much as two-thirds of such sales taking place in the United States," added U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. "These Internet sales of wildlife fuel poaching and make the killing of protected animals more profitable. Today’s prosecutions are a response to this alarming trend."

U.S. Department of Justice

This tiger skin rug was sold to undercover agents for $10,000, officials said on Jan. 6, 2012.

Aided by volunteers from the U.S. Humane Society who searched online, investigators said the illegal sales uncovered over a two-week period totaled 46 wildlife items, including these:

  • Sea turtle leather boots sold for $1,000.
  • A leopard skin coat sold for $8,000.
  • A tiger skin rug sold for $10,000.
  • A live Asian fish sold for $2,500.
  • Two rare birds sold for $1,750.

The defendants are from California and Nevada. They were charged with violating the federal Endangered Species Act, as well as other laws.

U.S. Department of Justice

This leopard skin coat was sold to undercover agents for $8,000, officials said on Jan. 6, 2012.

The Humane Society said it was glad to help. "Wildlife law enforcement agencies are increasingly facing budget cuts," society staffer Jennifer Fearing said in a statement, "making it even more challenging to combat the rampant illegal trade in wildlife."

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