Special Report: Wildlife trafficking in the RGV


BROWNSVILLE, Texas (KVEO) — At the U.S Mexico Border, Wildlife is the fourth most trafficked item, behind drugs, weapons, and people.

In June 2020, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) discovered a Spider Monkey in the center console of a vehicle at the Hidalgo Port of Entry.

Courtesy: CBP Hidalgo

“They opened up the center counsel and saw the eyes looking back at them – in sense, it was a little cute, but it also startled the officer when he saw that,” said Phil Barrera, CBP Public Affairs Officer.   

It is not uncommon for CBP to discover wild animals.

“Usually there is a wider array of techniques to try and conceal these animals that they are trying to bring in or take out,” said Barrera.

Once caught, government agencies hand the animals over to U.S Fish and Wildlife, which then go to the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville for care.   

“There is obviously a commercial benefit to this,” said Thomas deMaar, Senior Veterinarian with the Gladys Porter Zoo.

deMaar knows every animal that goes in and out of the zoo, including the ones caught at the U.S – Mexico border.

The most recent smuggling attempt brought 99 valuable reptiles into the zoo’s care.

Courtesy: CBP Hidalgo

“Mixed variety of small pythons, frogs, geckos, chameleons, that are all sort of packaged individually – some of them very neatly done with scientific names on them and it would be fair to say that they are going towards pet trade in Mexico,” said deMaar.

In 2009, a trailer tried to smuggle a group of Adax Antelope into Mexico through the Laredo border, which ended up in the zoo’s care.

“They are originally from Africa that is practically extinct in the wild – their habitat is in the Sahara Desert, in the deep Sahara.”

Another smuggling attempt into Mexico, six tiger cubs, three of which now call the zoo home.

“The six tigers were bred in Texas, a dealer in Texas was breeding them he wasn’t necessary legal – because he wasn’t on the radar of the department of agriculture and selling them in Mexico. In Mexico, there is outlets for little tigers, among them these places like Cancun or Cozumel” said deMaar.

Another attempt this time south to north, a baby tiger drugged and left at the border in a duffle bag.

Barrera said transferring these animals is illegal because getting a certificate from U.S Fish and Wildlife is nearly impossible.

Impossible because the animals are protected under six different acts including the Endangered Species Act and CITES.

“In order to move an endangered species across an international border you need permission from both countries, said deMaar.  

deMaar believes the government should budget for future captures because the zoo does not give any monetary help from any of the agencies.

“They bring them to the zoo because we recognize the fact that those organizations do not have the ability to care for these animals they don’t have the facilities they don’t have the staff so we do it as a service,” said deMaar.

A service, which he said is costing the zoo time and money, aside from taking care of their own animals.

“We have lobbied many times because this happens on our borders, in the U.S. in general, that these organizations – U.S Fish and Wildlife, for example, should budget for animals care of confiscating animals something we all want or should budget for as far as I know – that is not in their agenda.” 

deMaar mentions, while they don’t expect wildlife trafficking to stop overnight, it’s an issue the public should be aware of because the consequences could be much bigger than many think.

 “What it results in is [the] extinction of species, and extinction is a one-way trip we can’t get it back once it is extinct, said deMaar.

deMaar said one of the problems with wildlife trafficking is how small the penalties are for those caught trying to smuggle an exotic animal.

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