Bengal Tiger Seized in Ventura County
(Photo by USFWS)
By Lauren Bray, edhat staff
A Florida man was arrested last week on charges of being involved in the illegal sale and transportation of a Bengal tiger that was seized from a residence in Ventura County.
A law enforcement initiative targeting wildlife smuggling, titled Operation Jungle Book, resulted in federal criminal charges against 16 defendants who allegedly participated in the illegal importation and/or transport of numerous animal species. Included among them were monitor lizards, cobras, and several exotic fish, birds, and coral species.
Nicholas Bishop, also known as “Nick the Wrangler,” 27 – who currently resides in Hollandale, Florida, but at the time of the offense lived in Henderson, Nevada – was named in a criminal complaint charging him with the federal felony offense of aiding and abetting the purchase of a prohibited wildlife species (a Bengal tiger), according to a report from the Department of Justice (DOJ). The State of California also prohibits the possession of tigers and other large cats (certain licensed individuals and organizations have exceptions).
According to the affidavit in support of the complaint, Bishop falsified documents used to purchase the tiger in March 2014 from an Indiana organization called Wildlife In Need, Wildlife Indeed. In a statement he later gave to investigators, Bishop said that he had purchased the tiger for Michael Ray Stevenson, a rapper who uses the stage name Tyga, reports the DOJ.
Bengal Tiger seen in the backyard of a Ventura County home (Photo: CDFW)
The following month, the tiger was seen in a backyard in Ventura and reported to the DFW, which later located and seized the animal in Piru. The two individuals who possessed the tiger in Piru were convicted in state court. When it was recovered, the tiger weighed approximately 100 pounds; it now weighs well over 400 pounds, reports the DOJ.
Bishop allegedly falsified purchase records and caused the interstate transport of the tiger without the necessary documentation and permits required by the USFWS and the United State Department of Agriculture. He was taken into custody on October 19. If convicted of the criminal charge, he would face a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison
“We are combatting an ever-growing black market for exotic animals. An insatiable desire to own examples – both living and dead – of these vulnerable creatures is fueling this black market,” said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown. “This is a truly international problem that threatens the survival of iconic species and vulnerable animal populations. The United States Attorney’s Office is prosecuting a wide array of cases that highlight the pervasive problem of wildlife trafficking and the associated issues of invasive species, disease transmission and the extinction of certain species.”
Over the past several months, prosecutors from the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section of the United States Attorney’s Office have filed and litigated a series of cases that demonstrate the scope of the underground market for protected wildlife.
“Wildlife trafficking does not stop at international borders, and it is our duty to protect imperiled species both at home and abroad,” said Ed Grace, USFWS Acting Chief of Law Enforcement. “I commend our special agents who worked collaboratively with our state and federal partners to investigate, arrest, and prosecute these criminals. I would also like to thank the zoos, sanctuaries, and educational centers that shelter, care for, and rehabilitate the live animals we seize. Together, we are saving imperiled animals while bringing to justice those who attempt to profit from the illegal wildlife trade.”
Bengal Tiger in a dog crate (Photo by CDFW)
A Bengal Tiger isn't the only exotic animal recovered from this operation. A Monterey Park man pleaded guilty last month to smuggling king cobras that were illegally brought to the United States after being hidden in potato chip cans shipped from Hong Kong.
As well as an Inglewood man who pleaded guilty to smuggling five monitor lizards into the United States – two of which died while they were being shipped. A Westminster man who sold Arowana fish – said to be the world’s most expensive aquarium fish – pleaded guilty to smuggling the protected fish thought to be symbols of luck and prosperity in parts of Asia, as well as various turtle species. An Orange County man was ordered to serve one year in federal prison, and another six months in home detention, after pleading guilty to smuggling protected Asian songbirds into the United States.
Late last month, prosecutors also obtained three indictments charging a total of three individuals and two companies with engaging in the unlawful trading of protected live corals. Arraignments for all of the defendants are scheduled for early November.