How Big Of A Problem Is Reptile Poaching In Arizona?

Published: Friday, January 6, 2017 - 4:40pm
Updated: Monday, January 9, 2017 - 9:19am
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Arizona law generally prohibits taking, possessing, buying or selling wildlife, except in certain circumstances. But, that doesn’t stop poachers from capturing and selling reptiles and other exotic animals. Russ Johnson is president of the Phoenix Herpetological Society, and he talks about how big of a problem reptile poaching is in Arizona. 

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office tells us they’ve only received two submittals for prosecution in the past 12 months under the part of state law dealing with Game and Fish violations.

MCSO spokeswoman Amanda Jacinto said the office generally doesn’t get a lot of cases, and those it does get are most often misdemeanors — that’s the charge for someone caught illegally taking reptiles from wildlife. She said if prosecutors can prove a poacher’s trying to sell the reptile, that becomes a felony.
"Proving possession, for the most part, for our prosecutors is pretty easy — most of the time we have Game and Fish agents that are out there and able to verify that these people were in possession of these animals illegally. The hardest thing, of course, is that burden of proof — trying to figure out where they actually obtained them, and trying to prove whether or not they were trying to sell them those animals, as well, because it is such an underground community," she said.
And, Jacinto said, the punishments don’t always seem like big deterrents to poachers.
"In a lot of cases, they would rather go in there, and plead to the Class 2 [misdemeanor] and accept the fines and charges of that, knowing that they can turn around and perhaps do it again and make more profit out of this illegal activity," she said. 

Jacinto says most of these cases come from Game and Fish agents, like Tyler VanVleet. He’s law enforcement program manager with Arizona Game and Fish. VanVleet talks about how easy or difficult it is to catch poaches.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct a statement of fact in a source's quote.

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