This article on “Prosecution Of Federal Wildlife Crimes” by Antariksh Anant highlights the importance of implementing the wildlife protection statutes to prevent their exploitation in special reference to the United States of America. On this planet, every living being plays a significant role. But humans are intellectual beings and therefore they work towards making themselves better even if… Read More »

This article on “Prosecution Of Federal Wildlife Crimes” by Antariksh Anant highlights the importance of implementing the wildlife protection statutes to prevent their exploitation in special reference to the United States of America. On this planet, every living being plays a significant role. But humans are intellectual beings and therefore they work towards making themselves better even if it costs others’ life or happiness. Generally, humans extract benefits from...

This article on “Prosecution Of Federal Wildlife Crimes” by Antariksh Anant highlights the importance of implementing the wildlife protection statutes to prevent their exploitation in special reference to the United States of America.

On this planet, every living being plays a significant role. But humans are intellectual beings and therefore they work towards making themselves better even if it costs others’ life or happiness. Generally, humans extract benefits from wildlife species by selling either skin, teeth, ivory, nails, etc.

If any wrong is done to humans, they can speak for themselves, and thereafter, they can use laws to protect themselves. The situation with animals is different, they cannot speak for themselves. Hence, it becomes the duty of humans to make sure that they are not exploited.

If attempts are made, then such offenders should be punished. For this very purpose, US has specifically categorised wildlife crimes. This article will talk about such crimes, the penalty, operations. Additionally, certain case laws will be discussed for a clear-cut idea.

Introduction

Humans and animals, both are equally important on this planet. But humans have this capacity to speak for themselves, which animals do not possess. However, it is important to protect them. Stricter laws and security are a must to make sure that they are safe in their place.

For this noble purpose, US has made a special category of crimes called federal wildlife crimes. There are certain acts and programs which aim to safeguard animals from the malicious intent of humans. Acts like the Animal Welfare Act, Lacey Act are concerned with the protection of wildlife species. There are loads of cases on wildlife protection which further clarify the rules.

What Are Wildlife Crimes?

Wildlife crimes refer to acts committed contrary to any national or international regulation which aims at protecting natural resources or endangered species. It poses a threat to the existence of a variety of species (either birds or animals).

At the international level, wildlife crimes include violation of Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) as well as Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CMS, also called Bonn Convention works for the conservation of endangered migratory birds. It works through negotiations, implementation of agreements, and Species Action Plan.

A few of its resolutions are –

  • Resolution on Minimising the Risk of Poisoning the Migratory birds.
  • Resolution on Eliminating Illegal killing, taking, and trading of Migratory birds.
  • Resolution for Fighting the Wildlife crimes and Offenses within as well as beyond borders.
  • Adoption of Central Asian Mammal Initiative.

Wildlife crimes can include activities like poaching (sport of hunting specific species), netting or trapping, poisoning, shooting, snaring, etc.

Following are some of the animals which are killed and are now endangered.

  • Tibetan Antelope – poaching for valuable Shahtoosh Wool.
  • Wild Bactrian Camel – hunted for subsistence, sports, and minimising competition.
  • African Elephant – killing for illegal ivory.
  • Snow Leopard- poached for valuable pelts.
  • Sea Turtle- for marine bush meat.

Why Protection is Significant?

Every living being is connected to another by the food chain and food web. Also, the more the number of species, the more diverse and beautiful the planet looks. So when the population of any species is killed in huge numbers, it affects the food chain as well as the food web. Subsequently, it disbalances the whole chain and endangering one species, other species also get imbalanced.

Therefore, for the stable functioning of this ecosystem, it is very significant that every species is present in balanced numbers. And for this very reason, several conventions and enactments are made. Some of them are discussed in subsequent sub-headings.

Lacey Act

Protection of wildlife species dates back to 1900 when Lacey Act was passed by congress. It aimed at addressing the illegal hunting (for commercial purposes) which threatened the endangered species with extinction. This act made it a federal crime to break any wildlife laws.

It is a fact-based statute which means that only actual legality counts (i.e. no third-party verification can be done to prove the legality of the act). The violators of the law will have to face criminal as well as civil procedures even if they did not know that they were dealing with illegal products.

The penalties are higher for those who knew they were trading in illegal materials. While, for the person who does not know, the situation is quite different. At first, an investigation is done to find out whether the concerned person used every possible opportunity to determine whether the product was legal to trade with.

In short, this is called, ‘due care’ i.e. whether due care was observed while dealing with the illegal items (which were presumed to be legal). An amendment to the Lacey Act has included trading illegally grown plant products as a violation of law. One of the noteworthy cases in this context is of Gibson Guitar Corporation.

Allegations were put against Gibson that he violated the Lacey Act by importing illegally grown wood from Madagascar and India. Thereafter, a Gibson Guitar Agreement was entered into where the department of Justice and Gibson agreed on certain facts and that there were penalties.

The company had to pay a certain amount as penalties, contribution to conservation programs. They further agreed that on two conditions government will not pursue any criminal charges :

  1. The company pays the amount it has been ordered to.
  2. In the future, it does not commit such violations.

Gibson accepted responsibility for their actions. This case demonstrated that forest legalities policies can be enforced by the national government on individuals as well as corporations. It shows US government is serious about the conservation of wildlife.

United States Fish & Wildlife Services

US fish and wildlife service is a federal agency that aims to work for fish and wildlife conservation. Before this was the Bureau of Fisheries which was created in 1871. Some of the sub-units under Fisheries and Wildlife Services (FWS) are:

  • National Wildlife Refuge System
  • Federal Duck Stamp
  • National Fish Hatchery System
  • Endangered Species Program
  • National Conservation Training Centre

Operation Crash is one of many ongoing programs started by FWS in association with US Attorneys. It aims to prosecute those who are in the black marketing of rhinoceros horns and other such protected species.

This operation is named so because ‘crash’ is used to denote a herd of rhinoceros. There are several cases that come under the purview of this operation and one of such cases is US v. Li Zhifei.

Li was the owner of an Overseas Treasures Finding business in Shandong, China. It was a business involved in selling rhino horns across international borders. They were smuggled by hiding them in various means like in porcelain vases, in duct tapes, etc.

In 2013, when he arrived in US, he was arrested on federal charges of buying rhino horns. He was organiser of an illegal wildlife activity that smuggled 30 raw rhinoceros horns, whose worth was $3 million. He was prosecuted and convicted with 70 months of incarceration. Moreover, he had to forfeit $ 3.5 million from his proceeds in criminal activity.

Other Species

There are numerable cases of illegal dealing of protected species and their valuable parts. A few of them are discussed hereinafter.

  • US v. Robroy Mac Innes:

Mac Innes and Keszey owned Glades Herp farm Inc., which dealt in reptiles. From 2006 to 2008, they had collected protected snakes from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. They even purchased protected timber rattlesnakes and thereafter transported them.

An evidence in the trial showed that they can sell rattlesnakes for $800, while other varieties of snakes could fetch them $1000. They were prosecuted and found guilty. Mac Innes was sentenced to 8 months incarceration with $400 fine while Keszey was sentenced to 12 months of incarceration along with $2000 fine.

  • US v. Duncan:

Brett Duncan was involved in the illegal harvesting and trafficking of American Ginseng. It is a root which is an essential ingredient in many dietary supplements. One pound of this can fetch more than $1000.

There was a wide range of illegal trading and therefore Operation Native Root was started. After investigation and prosecution, Brett Duncan was found guilty. He had to pay hefty fines and restitution, serve probation, etc.

Migratory Birds

Special protection is ensured for the migratory birds too. For this, the Migratory Birds Treaty Act was passed. This makes it unlawful to pursue hunting, capturing, or killing of nearly 1100 species of migratory birds as listed. Moreover, it grants full protection to every bird’s part including feathers and even their nests.

Recently, around 150 species were added to the list. In November 2013, Duke Energy Renewable was sentenced for violating the Migratory Birds Treaty Act. The company had to pay a fine, complete a five-year probation period.

Additionally, they had to spend around $ 600,000 each year to support environmental protection plans. All these show how conscious US has grown over time concerning the protection of wildlife.

Animal Welfare Act

The Animal Welfare Act is the only federal law of the United States which aims at regulating the treatment of animals in research programs, exhibitions, transport. Mostly, the other laws deal with the illegal trading of the protected species.

The original version of this act was not as strict as it has become now after several amendments. One major loophole was that it only dealt with pre-research procedures, i.e. how were the animals obtained for the purpose of research.

But after the amendment, the protection was extended to treatment during research activities. Another drawback was it saved only the protected animals. But later, cats, dogs, cows, rabbits, horses, pigs, fishes were also inserted.

The law provides for criminal as well as civil punishments in cases of violation of the Animal Welfare Act. Moreover, the permits granted can also be revoked.

As per this law, individuals have to take permits to either buy or sell such listed animals. The animals should be kept in such environmental conditions as mentioned. Research activities and experimentation on animals should be regulated by law.

Conclusion to Prosecution Of Federal Wildlife Crimes

Animals being a crucial part of the ecosystem, it is important to protect them and maintain a balance on this planet. Realising this, US has provided for special protection of wildlife. It aims at banning the illegal training, killing, poaching of the protected species.

Moreover, it regulates the treatment of animals during research activities and experimentation. Not only acts are made, but they are implemented. The huge number of cases substantiate the efficient implementation of such special acts. In this way, they are protected by the US government.


  1. Law Library: Notes and Study Material for LLB, LLM, Judiciary and Entrance Exams
  2. Legal Bites Academy – Ultimate Test Prep Destination
Updated On 2021-08-03T10:46:15+05:30
Antariksh Anant

Antariksh Anant

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