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SOS Rhino : In the News : Current Rhino News : Animal park owner pleads guilty to charge of trafficking exotic animals

Animal park owner pleads guilty to charge of trafficking exotic animals

  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 in November.

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 Service investigator.

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.

Copyright 2002, Associated Press
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