Wardens Go Undercover to Crack Down on Trophy Animal Sales

State Fish and Wildlife wardens say they bust trophy mount sellers to send a message: Stop creating an incentive for poaching. Meanwhile, the Peninsula Humane Society partners with eBay to cut sales of exotic animal parts.

A quick search of Craigslist reveals dozens of postings of animal parts for sale.

“Large collection of stuffed deer, elk, boar trophy mounts”
“Deer mount $100”
“Trophy Bull Elk Head $3500”

Buyers can find a menagerie of trophies ranging from wild boar to elk and mule deer. California Fish and Wildlife wardens say it’s illegal to sell any part of an animal that’s considered big game in California because it creates an incentive for poachers to kill animals for money. That puts a price tag on California wildlife.

“The sale of illegal species or native wildlife is second only to the drug trade in the U.S. so it is extremely profitable," said a Department of Fish and Wildlife warden who asked not to be identified because he works undercover.

Wardens say creating a market for California wildlife can lead to the endangerment and even extinction of the animals that roam our hills and forests.

“As opposed to a legal, ethical hunter who gets a hunting license, documents it, consumes it, does everything legally and ethically where it is monitored and regulated…people who are buying and selling off the internet are trying to basically create profit,” said Department of Fish and Wildlife Lt. John Nores. “You’re talking about a greed…with no concern for species balance…and that’s how we lose animals to extinction.”

Nores said some people are unaware of the law and they’re just looking to get rid of Grandpa’s old deer mount. But there are others who knowingly sell these animal parts because it can be lucrative. The Investigative Unit found multiple listings for trophy mounts ranging in the hundreds to thousands of dollars. When the sellers were contacted and asked if they knew what they were doing was illegal, one said “I’ve heard that, but it’s mine, I own it.”

Another seller claimed he didn’t know and that he just wanted to sell the deer mount for his dad.

To see how Fish and Game is trying to enforce the law, the Investigative Unit followed a team of wardens to a bust in Santa Clara county. Undercover agents said they contacted a man who had listed 20 different mounts for sale, including the illegal sale of a mule deer and several species of elk found in California. They offered to buy a mule deer mount listed for $600, an amount the seller refused to lower.

“We tried to negotiate price down as any Craigslist buyer would. The suspect would not budge on his price whatsoever which is a good indicator he’s trying to make serious profit off animals that were killed under sport license,” said the undercover warden.

After exchanging money for the mule deer mount, the seller was issued a citation for a misdemeanor. He told wardens he wasn’t aware of the law, something they found tough to believe because they say the seller had hunting and fishing licenses.

“He’s someone who has gone through state hunter education and people are made aware of the fact if you hunt something under a sport license, it’s yours. You can not commercially sell it and that is something every fisherman and every hunter would know.”

Of course the black market sale of animal products goes beyond California. Online marketplaces such as eBay have made it even easier for international sales of exotic animal parts such as ivory, rare animal skulls, horns, and other items banned for sale under state, federal and international law because they threaten endangered species.

To address the problem, the Peninsula Humane Society partnered with eBay to train volunteers to identify, report, and help investigate these illegal sales. In the first year, more than 2,000 items were removed from eBay after being identified by volunteers. In the first 3 months of 2013, some 1,300 products have been flagged.

Humane society president Ken White says the agency holds workshops to train volunteers, and it’s a simple way to make a difference.

“We pull up screens online, we show them what they’re looking for, and all they have to do is sit at home in their jammies identify what they think might illegal. That’s sent to staff here and if it is illegal, we notify eBay,”  White said. “There are people making a living knowingly exploiting animals…Those are the people we want to see go to jail.”

Want to help?

The Peninsula Humane Society has a training session coming up.
What: Internet Examiner Training
When: Tuesday, May 28 from 6:30 to 8:30pm
Where: Lantos Center, 1450 Rollins Road in Burlingame.

Space is limited, so the Peninsula Humane Society is asking people to reserve a seat in advance with our Volunteer Services Department. Email them at: Volunteers@PHS-SPCA.org

Click here for a link to the volunteer position description.

Connect with Investigative Reporter Vicky Nguyen on Facebook, or message her on Twitter.

If you have a tip for the Investigative Unit email theunit@nbcbayarea.com or call 888-996-TIPS (8477)

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