Monday, January 31, 2011

Craigslist Helps Florida Wildlife Officials Capture Reptile Dealers

An American alligator

The state of Florida is famous for being one of the warmest places state year-round in the U.S. With its sunshine, sandy beaches, and tropical weather, it is a paradise on earth for anyone looking for a place to go on a vacation. But beneath the sunny skies lies a dark secret. Florida has been known to be a gateway for the illegal trafficking of drugs flowing into the U.S from as far down as South America. In addition to being a superhighway for bringing in narcotics onto the U.S soil, the Sunshine State has also been a hotbed for the trade of exotic pets. This illegal, yet lucrative business dates back as early as 1979 when the first python was found along the fringes of the mighty Everglades. This vast network of subtropical wetlands is known to house a rich variety of native wildlife, such as alligators, crocodiles, manatees, and even the elusive Florida panther. However, due to the major impact of the pet trade, the Everglades and the surrounding regions have since been overrun by pythons, monitor lizards, and giant pouched rats. This has led to the local wildlife being put to the brink of conquest, as the invasive species do whatever they can to take over the native lands as the Spanish conquistadors had done hundreds of years ago.

With the rise of exotic pets breaking into the corridors of Florida's wild lands, wildlife officials have been doing whatever they could to slow down the process of the pet trade. Recently, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has taken its strategic steps to the internet; most notably on Craigslist to bust illegal reptile dealers. The department established the Internet Crime Unit (ICU) last year as a way of running sweeps across the cyberworld for dealers illegally selling reptiles. Many of these dealers operate without licenses or permits, which explains why non-native species like pythons and monitor lizards are often seen slithering free amongst the neighborhoods often showing up in people's backyards. In order to capture the culprits, the officials would respond to advertisements by posing as ordinary customers. Since the beginning of January, the FWC has been involved in several cases dealing with reptile dealers illegally selling reptiles online. The most recent case occurred earlier this week when officials responded to an ad listing an eighteen-inch alligator on sale for $100. However, the biggest seizure took place on August 2009 when a reptile dealer's plan was foiled after he was caught attempting to sell two nine-foot-long Burmese pythons, four reticulated pythons, and six juvenile albino Burmese pythons.

I think it is amazing to see what tactics wildlife officials would use when dealing with these types of situations. When one thinks about tackling a problem concerning wild or domestic animals, it is usually where a team of dedicated individuals would respond to a call regarding those animals' lives and go down with a warrant to a house or some other building housing them with hopes of bringing them back safely. However, that usually is not always the case. These individuals have been relying on modern technology, in order to get their job done. But what really surprises me is to see that among the unfortunate victims include alligators, which are native to Florida's wild places. These gigantic relatives of dinosaurs are a keystone species to the Everglades. Why would anyone want an alligator for a pet? Anyone who would own an alligator or even a python would be putting his/her life at risk of fatal injury or death. Furthermore, the animal itself is deprived of its natural habitat and is confined to a life of misery. I personally feel that the best strategy would be to reconsider Florida's laws regarding pets, in which no exotic pets would be sold in local pet stores. Otherwise, the people of the Sunshine State and the local wildlife would be further threatened by these alien species.

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