Three sentenced in snake trafficking investigation

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 Three men have been sentenced as a part of Operation Kingsnake, a three-year investigation that uncovered the illegal trafficking and collecting of hundreds of wild snakes in Oregon, 11 other states, and Canada, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Michael Collalto, of Rochester, New York, pleaded guilty Jan. 30, 2017, in federal court in Rochester, New York, to four Lacey Act violations for his role in the trade of illegally caught snakes. From 2008 through 2012, Collalto was part of a group of individuals that trafficked hundreds of illegally collected snakes to or from Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, Texas, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and Canada.

Collalto, a breeder and collector of reptiles, pleaded guilty to three counts of illegal transport of wildlife and one count of illegal receipt of wildlife, which are misdemeanors under the Lacey Act. In court documents, Collalto admitted that between 2011 and 2012, he knowingly participated in violations, which involved the illegal collection, transport, and receipt of snakes that were collected from and protected by New Jersey and Oregon.


Injurious wildlife

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We’ve all heard of the endangered species act that protects wildlife on the brink of extinction. This is just the opposite.

Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared four snakes “injurious wildlife,” effectivley clamping down on their travel visas.

Making the list of bad actors were the reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda and Beni anaconda.

“Large constrictor snakes are costing the American public millions of dollars in damage and placing at risk 41 federally and state-listed threatened or endangered species in Florida alone,” FWS Director Dan Ashe said in a prepared statement during an event to announce the rule in Florida. “Today’s action will help prevent humans from contributing to the spread of these snakes.”

Beni and DeSchauensee couldn’t be reached for comment.

“The reticulated python and the green anaconda, considered the two largest snakes in the world, are traded commercially as pets. Some of these powerful snakes have been intentionally released into the wild, while others escape from poorly secured enclosures,” according to a FWS statement.

Once in the wild, they reek havok on the ecosystem, staying out all hours of the night, hanging out with the wrong sorts and gobbling up pet terriers.

Most people who own any of these four species of snakes (as in, those that haven’t escaped) will not be affected by the regulation, according to the FWS.

The action bars the four species from entering the United States and prohibits those already in the country from traveling from state to state. The move will be published in the Federal Register on March 10, and it goes into effect 30 days later (which is March 40, by my calculation). 

So, if you want to take your invasive non-native constrictor on a holiday, now is the time to do it.

Among the cypress trees

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The shores of Lake Marion, S.C., near the Santee National Wildlife Refuge. (c) 1999 J.S. Reinitz

The shores of Lake Marion, S.C., near the Santee National Wildlife Refuge. (c) 1999 J.S. Reinitz

One of my favorite things about exploring South Carolina was the cypress trees that stood silent and ominous, rising up from the ponds, tufts of Spanish moss caught in their branches. We’d rent canoes at Goodale State Park and paddle to the far end of the lake where there was a trail through the trees. We’d pick our way through, trying not to get lost, ever alert for snakes and alligators.

Above is a photo of the shores of Lake Marion, S.C., near the Santee National Wildlife Refuge.


Rattlesnake trafficking indictment

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs

Two Florida Men and Company Charged in Philadelphia with Rattlesnake Trafficking

Robroy MacInnes, 54, of Fort Myers, Fla., Robert Keszey, 47, of Bushnell, Fla., and Glades Herp Farm Inc., were charged in a two-count indictment today in federal court in Philadelphia, acvording to the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. The indictment charges MacInnes, Keszey and the Florida business they co-own, Glades Herp Farm, with conspiracy to traffic in endangered and threatened reptiles, as well as charging MacInnes and Glades with trafficking in protected timber rattlesnakes in violation of the Lacey Act.

According to the indictment, between 2007 and 2008, the defendants collected protected snakes from the wild in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, purchased protected eastern timber rattlesnakes that had been illegally collected from the wild in violation of New York law, and transported federally threatened eastern indigo snakes from Florida to Pennsylvania. The indictment also charges that defendants MacInnes and Glades violated the Lacey Act by purchasing illegal eastern timber rattlesnakes and having the snakes transported to Florida.

The eastern timber rattlesnake is a species of venomous pit viper native to the Eastern United States, and is considered endangered in New Jersey and threatened in New York. It is also illegal to possess an eastern timber rattlesnake without a permit in Pennsylvania. The eastern indigo snake, the longest native North American snake species, is listed as threatened by both Florida and Federal law.

The Lacey Act, one of the oldest statutes in the United States, prohibits interstate trafficking in wildlife known to be illegally obtained. The maximum penalty for conspiring to commit offenses and for violations of the Lacey Act is up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each violation.