|| Thursday, August 15, 2002
By Jim Suhr, Associated Press
ST. LOUIS — The last of five people indicted late last year
as part of a sweeping crackdown on black-market trafficking of exotic
animals has pleaded guilty.
Timothy Dale Rivers, owner of a Florida animal park, and at least
16 other people were charged as part of a five-year sting by the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service that stretched across 20 states.
Rivers, originally charged with a felony violation of federal wildlife
protection law, pleaded guilty this week to a misdemeanor provision,
admitting he illegally sold two federally protected black leopards.
He faces up to a year in prison and $100,000 in fines when sentenced
The Fish and Wildlife Service has alleged that a group of people in
the Midwest bought and killed tigers, leopards, snow leopards, lions,
mountain lions, cougars, and black bears to produce meat and skins
for the animal-parts trade.
Hides, meat, skulls, and teeth of tigers, leopards, and other big
cats can fetch $5,000 to $20,000 from collectors, wildlife officials
say. Tiger bones, worth up to $250 a pound, primarily go to people
who practice traditional Chinese medicine, both overseas and in major
U.S. cities with large Asian populations.
Possessing big cats violates no federal law, but killing them for
profit is outlawed.
"In a nutshell, people will do just about anything to make money
off wildlife — for everything from meat, skins, gall bladders,
skulls, bones," said Tim Santel, an Illinois-based Fish and Wildlife
The government alleged that, as owner of the Animals in Motion in
Citra, Fla., Rivers sold the cats to an Illinois buyer for $1,500.
The buyer was an operative with the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Rivers' co-defendants pleaded guilty earlier.
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