Exotic animals and Texas law

Exotic animals and Texas law

HOUSTON – Few people realize the illegal sale of exotic animals is estimated to be a multibillion-dollar-a-year business. In fact, officials with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department told Channel 2 Investigates the black market for exotic animals is second only to the illegal drug trade.

“The thing about crime or criminals, if they can make a buck, they’re going to,” Texas Parks and Wildlife Lt. Brent Satsky said.

More Investigates HeadlinesParks and Wildlife recently wrapped up an undercover operation in the Houston area. In just four days, game wardens posed as buyers and found 10 illegal sales. American alligators, a timber rattlesnake, a 100-year-old alligator snapping turtle, turtles and pythons were seized.

The snapping turtle and timber rattlesnake are threatened species, which makes it a Class C misdemeanor to own or sell them without a state permit. The pythons are considered invasive species and are also illegal to own of sell without a permit.

Satsky said the regulation of invasive species is particularly crucial to protecting our native species.

“Think about the things it’s going to prey upon,” Satsky said. “Those kind of things can be detrimental to Texas native species.”

Game wardens also made two cases involving the illegal, backdoor sales of shrimp to the public. Satsky said illegal shrimp sales are a rampant problem in the Houston area, typically involving someone buying directly from a boat captain and then reselling the catch without a permit.

“If we’re not looking at that, who else is going to do it?” said Satsky.

Satsky said Parks and Wildlife game wardens are constantly scanning the internet for illegal sales. However, he said the black market is evolving. He said these sales typically took place on Craigslist and eBay, but are now being found on popular apps like Offer Up and Letgo.

“People are attracted to these, and they have an affinity for them, and they want them,” said Satsky.

Satsky admitted not everyone they catch knows they are breaking the law. One example game wardens shared with KPRC Channel 2 News involved a Cypress man selling mounted game birds. The federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibits this, and an undercover video shows the seller was clearly shocked to learn this detail.

Satsky said stopping individual sellers is important, but the real goal is going after those intentionally using invasive, endangered or threatened species to turn a profit.

“That’s our intent: To go after the person that is trying to capitalize and commercialize our natural resources,” Satsky said.