Crimes against wildlife

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July 1996:

June 12, 1996 was a day to
remember in the international fight against
wildlife traffickers:
• In Chicago, bird smuggler
Tony Silva, 36, was jailed pending sentencing,
after prosecutors Sergio Acosta a n d
Jay Tharp argued that he was likely to jump
bail. Silva, who ran a wild-caught bird
smuggling ring while posing as an outspoken
foe of the wild-caught bird traffic, in January
pleaded guilty to reduced charges of conspiracy
and tax evasion, but on May 17 sought
unsuccessfully to withdraw the plea, after
former Playboy Mansion animal keeper
Theodora Swanson, 36, in April drew a
lighter sentence for conviction on contested
charges than her confederates got after copping

“Wildlife criminals always pose a
high flight risk,” commented S h i r l e y
M c G r e a l of the International Primate
Protection League, who has pursued animal
traffickers for 23 years. “They are active
internationally, and often have millions of
dollars stashed away. Some countries [to
which they flee] do not have extradition
treaties with the United States.”
• In Calgary, 45 officers of six
agencies on June 12 raided 14 “herbal”
stores , seizing more than 360 pounds of
products allegedly containing parts of endangered
or protected animals, including tigers,
rhinos, elephants, musk deer, leopards, and
tortoises. Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Corporal Dave Ingram told media that
charges against the store owners would not
be laid pending the completion of the investigation,
probably in mid-July. The raid was
instigated, he said, by public complaints.
• Also on June 12, Labrador
Metis Association president Todd Russell
was charged with obstructing a federal fisheries
officer. Russell and at least seven other
Metis held that they were “exercising our
rights as aboriginal people,” Russell said,
when the Canadian federal officer tried to
seize one of their nets in connection with possible
illegal fishing charges.
The obstruction case, filed 10
months after the August 1995 fishing incident,
may have been meant to send a signal
to Canadian aboriginals, coinciding with a
ruling by British Columbia provincial
court judge Bob Higinbotham that three
Chemainus-area members of the Penelakut
band were not poaching when they were
arrested for jacklighting deer. Higinbotham
upset traditional interpretations of British
Columbia and perhaps Canadian game laws
by agreeing with the defense that they pertain
only to sport hunting, not to hunting for
meat. B. C. environment minister M o e
Sihota on June 14 requested an appeal.
In other cases of note:
• A heavily armed 27-member
strike force led by three KwaZulu-Natal
Nature Conservation special investigators
on May 21 raided a clandestine “skin factory”
in Durban, South Africa, arresting three
men and seizing the remains of at least a
dozen leopards, 12 bushbaby lemurs, 11
purple-crested turcaos, seven jackals, 59
genets, a zebra foal, and hooved stock
including nyala, springbok, reedbuck, duiker,
and impala. A 1995 raid on the same
building found 30 leopard pelts.
• Robert Vose, 52, of Ryhope,
Sunderland, England, arrested last summer,
was fined nearly $2,000 on May 22 for illegally
possessing the eggs of at least five
endangered or protected bird species.
• A jury in Sonoma County,
California, found Van Howard “Hojo”
Johnson, 27, of San Diego, guilty on 12
counts pertaining to poaching more than
$500,000 worth of abalone in 1993 and 1994,
for export to Asia and the eastern U.S., but a
day later found an alleged accomplice,
August Angelo Vichi, 37, of Santa Rosa,
guilty of only six misdemeanors. “We were
hoping for a felony conviction that would
send him to state prison,” said Sonoma
County deputy district attorney Brooke
Halsey. Johnson faces up to three years in
state prison. Ten other defendants have
drawn jail time and fines.

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