Zoos in Kansas are receiving tiger and lion pelts that federal agents seized from wildlife traffickers.
According to U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister, his office donated the pelts to the Topeka Zoo and the Sedgwick County Zoo. The pelts were seized by agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who were enforcing federal laws aimed at protecting endangered animals and disrupting the global black market for hides and other parts of protected wildlife.
“Poachers, wildlife smugglers and black market merchants are stealing our last chance to protect and preserve creatures of awesome strength and beauty,” McAllister said. “Once these animals go, they will be gone forever. They are a precious natural resource that the federal government protects, including by criminal prosecution of illegal traffickers.”
The Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), together with United States Attorneys’ Offices across the country, is responsible for prosecuting international wildlife trafficking crimes, primarily under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Lacey Act, as well as crimes related to wildlife trafficking, such as smuggling, money laundering, and criminal conspiracy.
Wildlife items forfeited or abandoned to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are stored in a 22,000-square-foot office and warehouse located northeast of Denver that is called the National Wildlife Repository. Many of the items are donated to educational facilities and nonprofit organizations to aid in teaching about endangered species.
McAllister said the tiger pelts came from the wildlife depository. Fish and Wildlife Service agents used some of them in a sting operation in Wichita in 2018. A Wichita man pleaded guilty to making a deal to pay $8,000 to have two tiger pelts delivered to him. Agents retrieved the tiger pelts and seized a lion pelt from his home when they arrested him.
McAllister said the Justice Department estimates the international illegal trade in wildlife generates as much as $23 billion annually. In Kansas in recent years, federal agents have investigated wildlife trafficking cases including deer and elk that had been poached by guides and hunters, eagle feathers that were being unlawfully sold and Asian leopard cats unlawfully imported to Kansas. Federal prosecutors across the country also have pursued cases involving native turtles being exported to other countries.