Endangered-animal trafficking hits home (California, USA)


Tom Stienstra, San Francisco Chronicle

Date Published

The nightmare of an elephant, rhinoceros or other endangered species being killed for its parts to be brought into California and sold brings deep pain to David Bess, the chief of enforcement for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“Animal trafficking is a terrible problem,” he said when we met for dinner last week.

Over the winter, California wildlife officers intercepted ivory from endangered elephants, pieces of horn from rhinoceros and other animal parts in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles.

In San Francisco, wildlife officers seized more than 50 small statues made out of ivory and whale teeth, and a bracelet made out of rhinoceros horn, according to the DFW. The cases are pending. The street value was $500,000, according to the agency.

In Alameda County, officers found illegal items for sale made out of protected python skin, according to the DFW.

In Los Angeles, wildlife officers intercepted 377 pieces of jewelry made out of ivory in one shipment from Indonesia and 116 small purses and wallets made out of endangered python skin in another, the DFW said.

“Black-market trafficking of wildlife in California will not be tolerated,” said Bess, who credited Gov. Jerry Brown for shifting funds in the state budget to create a Wildlife Trafficking Team within the agency.

According to wildlife officers, the black market for rhino horn is driven by the fictional belief in some Asian cultures that the horn, ground into powder and sprinkled on food, has curative powers. Agents said a rhino horn can sell for more than $200,000.