Ring Trafficking Deadly Snakes Busted
"Operation Viper" leads to numerous charges for trafficking venomous snakes.
On Jan. 12, 2023, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division (DNR LED) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) filed charges against eight individuals for the illegal trafficking of venomous and prohibited exotic snakes.
The DNR LED has been receiving intelligence reports and complaints indicating that a black market existed for the sale and purchase of illegal and highly dangerous venomous reptiles in Georgia. In 2021, Georgia DNR LED and FWC initiated a long-term investigation with undercover investigators to determine the extent of this illegal activity.
The illegal sale, purchase and transporting of these regulated animals pose a significant public safety threat and threatens the long-term well-being of state wildlife populations. If these illegal and dangerous nonnative species were to escape, there is a possibility they could live and breed in the wild.
Over the course of the multi-state investigation, nearly 200 snakes, consisting of 24 species from seven different regions of the globe, were purchased from or sold to wildlife traffickers by undercover investigators. Some of those species include the inland taipan, bushmaster, rhinoceros viper, African bush viper, Gaboon viper, green mamba, eyelash viper, multiple species of spitting cobra, forest cobra, puff adder and saw-scaled vipers. Several of these snakes are listed in the top 10 deadliest in the world and no anti-venom for the treatment of snake bites for several of the species is available in Georgia.
This lengthy investigation developed suspects both in and out of Georgia and Florida. Investigators realized early into the investigation that the black market for venomous reptiles was robust, and subjects identified in the operation were dealing reptiles frequently and in high numbers, often to or from unpermitted individuals.
Violations charged during this operation do not take into account that many of these snakes were probably sourced illegally from their home country of origin. A well- established tactic for black market dealers is to launder illegally procured snakes through a properly permitted facility, so they may be sold without divulging their true origin.
Timothy James Gould, 38, of Central City, PA was taken into custody in Georgia on numerous felony and misdemeanor arrest warrants. The other seven suspects were arrested in Florida.
Gould is a well-established wildlife transporter and is unpermitted in the state of Georgia and Florida for any captive wildlife, let alone venomous reptiles. He advertises his illegal transport services on a popular online marketplace for wildlife dealers. When arrested, Gould had 27 exotic venomous snakes in his possession illegally.
Wildlife trafficking ranks fourth behind, drugs, weapons and humans in global activity, and it is often a nexus for other illegal activity. There are many different estimates of the value of illicit wildlife trafficking worldwide. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, illicit wildlife trafficking is estimated to be between $7.8 billion and $10 billion per year.
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