Home Biologist salary Feds: Kentucky man illegally sold turtles for pet market

Feds: Kentucky man illegally sold turtles for pet market

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A federal wildlife officer took photos of turtles that a Kentucky man was illegally selling. This photo was included in the court file.

United States Fish and Wildlife Service

Federal authorities have charged a Kentucky man with illegal trafficking of turtles, which are considered pets in China.

Christopher Cool, from Jackson County, reportedly told a friend that he made a lot of money selling turtles.

“I sell box turtles to wealthy Chinese in New York City for a hundred dollars EACH and more. . . and I have an endless amount of it here. . . . Cool wrote to a friend on social media in July 2020, according to an affidavit in the case.

Jimmy Barna, a special agent for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, has filed a lawsuit accusing Cool of wildlife trafficking in violation of federal law and conspiracy.

Barna said in her affidavit that this case against Cool began in July 2020 with advice that Cool was illegally buying turtles from “multiple” people.

Clint Cox, an officer with the Kentucky Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, checked the tip and found 246 eastern box turtles at Cool, Barna said.

Turtles fall under a treaty that protects fish, wildlife and plants that could be endangered by the demands of the international market. They cannot be imported or exported to the United States without the approval of federal wildlife authorities, according to the affidavit.

Barna said that on his way to Cool’s house the next day, he saw more than 200 Eastern Box Turtles in a protected area of ​​the house with water on the ground, along with shipping supplies.

Kentucky Turtles
Authorities charged a Kentucky man in September 2021 with the illegal sale of turtles. A wildlife officer took this photo of turtles in humans in July 2020.

Cool said he had been in the reptile business for over 20 years, but started selling large quantities of Eastern Box Turtles after posting a photo of one on the Facebook page of ‘a group of turtles and that a man offered him $ 150 for it, according to the affidavit.

Cool said he first caught turtles in the wild, but as two buyers stepped up their orders, he started paying people to catch turtles for him.

Cool said he regularly ships 30 to 60 turtles at a time to the two buyers, whom he met online, and believed to be Asian males in the New York City area, Barna said.

The two paid for it by money order or PayPal, Cool said.

Barna calculated from shipping and payment records that Cool sent a total of 599 turtles to its two main buyers between July 2019 and July 2020, priced at $ 62,219, plus another 70 turtles to a buyer in Pennsylvania. for $ 7,000, according to the affidavit.

At their first meeting, Cool had said he didn’t know it was illegal to sell Eastern Box Turtles, but messages between Cool and others indicated that he understood it was. illegal, Barna said.

Cool said he wanted to cooperate with authorities, but told Barna in August 2020 that his two main buyers blocked him on Facebook and that he was no longer going to sell turtles, Barna said.

However, in June, the State Department of Fisheries and Wildlife received an anonymous report that Cool was once again buying turtles and hauling them out of state in his Chevrolet Tahoe.

In July, the owner of an auto repair shop in West Virginia where Cool had his SUV serviced told wildlife authorities he saw around 100 to 200 Eastern Box Turtles in the vehicle.

The owner said that while the employees replaced the water pump on Cool’s SUV, Cool took plastic trash cans with turtles from the vehicle, cleaned them up, showed them to the employees and said he was heading to Pennsylvania for them. sell to a “Chinese man” from Brooklyn who shipped them out of the country, Barna said in her affidavit.

Cool told store workers that he makes about two trips a month to Pennsylvania to meet the buyer, Barna said.

Using the phone number Cool gave the repair shop, Barna, posing as a turtle seller, sent Cool a photo of eight turtles and asked him how much they were worth.

Cool replied “$ 80” via text, then a few days later he said he would pay $ 15 each for adult females, Barna said.

Barna swore the complaint against Cool on September 10. Cool was scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in London for the first time on Thursday.

Kentucky Turtles
A Kentucky man was charged in September 2021 with the illegal sale of turtles. A wildlife officer took this photo of turtles in humans.

Eastern box turtles are not nationally considered Endangered, but some states consider them a species of special concern, and Maine considers them Endangered, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

Habitat loss and collection for the pet market are factors in the decline of turtle populations, according to the federation.

North American box turtles are protected from commercial collection in all states, but with their colorful markings, they are valued in the pet trade, with China and Taiwan as specific destinations, said biologist Jordan Gray. of the Turtle Survival Alliance, based in South Carolina. .

The eastern box turtle is of growing concern to conservationists, Gray said.

Taking turtles from the wild degrades the natural heritage and can harm the viability of particular turtle populations, Gray said.

“They are removing this ecologically valuable animal from the wild population,” Gray said of the traffickers. “You are dramatically increasing the trajectory of this population towards extinction.”

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