Investigation exposes inner workings of illegal wildlife trade

The U.S. Justice Department exposed a wildlife trafficking operation that smuggled wildlife across the U.S.-Mexican border, including the endangered Central American river turtle. Credit: Matěj Baťha

An investigation into wildlife trafficking between Mexico and the United States not only put a smuggler behind bars. It also exposed the inner workings of the illegal cross-border wildlife trade.

The U.S. Justice Department announced that Jorge Alonso Gutierrez, a Mexican citizen, was sentence to three years in prison for his “role in a conspiracy to smuggle protected reptiles from Mexico to the United States.”

The indictiment showed that Gutierrez helped smuggle wildlife valued at over $3.5 million between Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas. The reptiles included a Central American river turtle (Dermatemys mawaii), a species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The Justice Department found that Gutierrez often received the animals at the airport in Ciudad Juarez, paid airport employees not to inspect the packages, and sent off the animals to be smuggled by car into El Paso. In some cases, smugglers transported African and Asian wildlife from the U.S. into Mexico to serve Mexican criminal organizations seeking exotic species.

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