Hunting News

Thursday, May 23, 2013

African Trophy Hunter Indicted for Violating Endangered Species Act and Lacey Act

Charles Kokesh was indicted by a federal grand jury in Pensacola, Florida, for violating the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act by selling two African elephant tusks and for making false accounts of wildlife related to that sale, the Justice Department announced today.

  The three count indictment returned yesterday alleges that Kokesh legally imported a sport-hunted African elephant trophy mount from Namibia, but thereafter illegally sold the two tusks, from New Mexico to a buyer in Florida.  The sale price was approximately $8,100, to be paid in a combination of currency and guns.  After the sale, Kokesh allegedly falsely described that sale, in an email to personnel at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as a shipment to an appraiser in anticipation of a donation to a non-profit entity.  Kokesh similarly falsely accounted for the location and disposition of the tusks in subsequent
correspondence.  Each false account and record is charged under the Lacey Act.

 African elephants are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  Both the United States and Namibia are signatories to CITES.  African elephant populations in Namibia are listed in Appendix II of CITES, which includes species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction now, but may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is strictly regulated.  Since 2000, the Namibian African elephant listing has specified that the species cannot be used for commercial purposes.

 The United States implements CITES through the Endangered Species Act and regulations issued thereunder.  To implement the CITES prohibition against commercial use of African elephant specimens, regulations issued under the Endangered Species Act proscribe the commercial use, including sale, of sport-hunted African elephant trophies, even if the trophies are legally hunted and imported.

 According to a recent report produced by CITES and partner organizations, entitled “Elephants in the Dust –The African Elephant Crisis,” populations of elephants in Africa are under severe threat as the illegal trade in ivory grows – with the number of elephants killed doubling and the  amount of ivory seized tripling over the last decade.  An estimated 17,000 elephants were illegally killed in 2011 to feed the illegal trade.  More information is available at www.cites.org/eng/news/pr/2013/20130306_ivory.php.

An indictment is merely an accusation, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

The maximum penalty for the charged violation of the Endangered Species Act is up to six months in prison and a $25,000 fine.  The maximum penalty for making a false statement is up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

 The case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and is being prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida.

For more information about CITES visit www.CITES.org.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Wildlife Management at Scott AFB

5/17/2013 - Erica McDonald, U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife biologist, holds onto a red tail hawk caught on Scott Air Force Base, May 1, 2013. Red tail hawks and other large birds pose a threat to aircraft landing and taking off. If the plane gets close enough and the bird gets hit, the impact can severely damage the engine and the plane will have to be grounded for repairs. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Tristin English)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Smuggling Ring Sentenced in Los Angeles for Criminal Trafficking of Endangered Rhinoceros Horn

Wildlife Agents Seize Hoard of Cash, Jewelry, Gold and Rhino Horn from Defendants
 
Vinh Chuong “Jimmy” Kha, 50, and Felix Kha 26, were sentenced today in federal district court in Los Angeles to serve 42 and 46 months, respectively, in prison for crimes related to illegal international trafficking of rhinoceros horn, announced Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice and AndrĂ© Birotte Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California.

In addition to the prison sentences, the two defendants were ordered to pay a total of $20,000 in criminal fines and pay a $185,000 tax fraud penalty and assessment.  In addition, Jimmy Kha’s Win Lee Corporation was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine.  Jimmy and Felix Kha, along with Win Lee Corporation, were also ordered to pay a total of $800,000 in restitution to the Multinational Species Conservation Fund, a statutorily created fund that is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to support international efforts to protect and conserve rhinos and other critically endangered species around the world.  The defendants previously abandoned their portion of interest in $2 million worth of rhino parts and vehicles seized in the investigation.

The Khas are among several individuals charged so far with federal crimes as a result of “Operation Crash,” an ongoing FWS-led investigation of the black market rhino horn trade named for the term used to describe a herd of rhinoceros.

 “The Khas engaged in egregious criminal conduct by taking the horns of a species on the brink of extinction and making millions of dollars in the illegal trade in rhino horns,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “The Khas sentence sends a strong message that those who violate the law by illegally trading in rhino horns will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

“The Khas’ smuggling operation fueled international demand and played a significant role in driving the price of rhino horn to nearly $25,000 per pound,” said U.S. Attorney Birotte. “It was that rising value of rhino horn that encouraged ruthless poachers to scour the South African wilderness in search of profits. The Khas played a role in pushing species like the African black rhino to the brink of extinction, which is why we aggressively prosecuted this case and sought lengthy prison terms.”
 
“On average, a rhino is slaughtered in Africa every 11 hours to feed the black market for their horns,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe.  “Criminals in this country who are cashing in on this illegal trade should know that the United States will hold them accountable for their crimes and do everything possible to protect wild populations of rhinos.”
   
On Sept. 14, 2012, the Khas pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, smuggling, wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act, money laundering and tax fraud, and Win Lee Corporation pleaded guilty to smuggling and wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act.  In February 2012, at the time of the arrest of Jimmy and Felix Kha, FWS agents seized rhinoceros mounts and horns, $1 million in cash, approximately $1 million in gold ingots, jewelry, watches and precious stones, a 2009 BMW 759 Li Sedan and a 2008 Toyota Forerunner from the defendants and their co-conspirators.  Under the plea agreement, the defendants agreed to the forfeiture of these items, which include nine rhino horns and six rhino feet.  Ultimately, prior to sentencing, the defendants formally abandoned all the wildlife and the instrumentalities of the crimes seized from them (such as the vehicles) to the United States.  The Khas’ portion of the seized cash and gold, proceeds of their illegal activities, will be used to pay the $800,000 in restitution ordered at sentencing.
 
Background on Rhinos
With no known predators other than humans, rhinoceros are a prehistoric species and one of the largest herbivores on earth.  All rhinoceros species are protected under U.S. and international law, and the black rhinoceros is listed as endangered.  Despite national and international protection efforts dating back to 1976, the demand for rhino horn and black market prices have skyrocketed in recent years due to the value that some cultures have placed on the horns for ornamental carvings, good luck charms or alleged medicinal purposes.  This has led to a decimation of the global rhinoceros population, which has declined by more than 90 percent since 1970.  By the peak of the Kha’s wildlife trafficking conspiracy in 2011, 448 wild rhinos had been slaughtered for their horns in South Africa alone.  Between 2007 and the end of 2011, the poaching of wild South African rhinos increased a tragic and astonishing 3,400 percent, rising from a low of 13 animals in 2007 to 448 animals in 2011.

The Criminal Conduct
Over the course of at least two years from January 2010, through February 2012, Jimmy and Felix Kha conspired with individuals throughout the United States to purchase white and black rhinoceros horn despite knowing that these animals were protected by federal law as endangered and threatened species.  Although Jimmy Kha paid, on average, between $5,000 to $7,000 per pound of rhinoceros horn, the horn acquired by the defendants had a fair market value of at least $1 million to $2.5 million.  Under the plea agreement, the defendants admitted that they purchased the horns in order to export them overseas to be sold and made into libation cups or used for traditional medicine; made illegal payments to Vietnamese customs officials to ensure clearance of horn shipments to that country; and knowingly evaded income taxes owed in 2009 and 2010. 

U.S. Attorney Birotte and Assistant Attorney General Moreno commended FWS and its partners for their outstanding work on this investigation.  Assisting agencies included the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph O. Johns and Dennis Mitchell of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, and Shennie Patel, a Trial Attorney with the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Caring canine team helps with stress relief during crisis

by Airman 1st Class Jelani Gibson
82nd Training Wing Public Affairs


5/1/2013 - SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- A black Labrador comes in tongue out and eyes full of curiosity as she wags her tail back and forth in a frenzy, looking to and fro as she does so. As she walks into the office accompanied by her handler, her paws patter upon the carpet floor and she creeps up to complete strangers to be pat on the head. Ushered along and panting heavily with each breath, she finally comes into the office room and plops down onto the floor with a distinctive thump.

As a disaster stress dog, this type of interaction was routine for her, and her most recent mission had been to help those affected by the fertilizer plant disaster in West, Texas.

"When a person interacts with her by petting her, the stress level from that person is absorbed by the dog," said Lee Boedeker, an aircraft maintenance systems instructor for the 364th Training Squadron at Sheppard Air Force Base.

Boedeker is the handler for a dog he affectionately calls Smokey. They both volunteer and are a certified dog team for Therapy Dogs International (TDI), an organization that has 24,750 dogs and 22,000 handlers.

TDI was founded in 1976 and has its headquarters in Flanders, New Jersey. TDI uses therapy dogs for a variety of mental health services including children reading programs in libraries and schools, hospitals and disaster relief.

With 48 out of 24,750 dogs being certified to specialize in disaster relief work, dogs like Smokey are a part of a very elite field. Requirements include eight hours of testing as well as FEMA approved courses, including psychological first aid.

"Disaster dog teams are tested more to cope with the psychological and physical elements of disaster situations," said Boedeker. "They have to be able to approach people unconditionally."

Many aspects of disasters are emotional, which lends a unique challenge for a therapy dog and their handler.

"A lot of these people are stressed out," Boedeker said. "Nobody is sure what's going to happen next."

They not only focus on victims of the disaster, but first responder personnel as well.

"Red Cross, chaplains, firefighters, command personnel and paramedics, they all know the value of what a dog can provide," said Boedeker. "They know what the dogs can do."

Boedeker counts the change that he and Smokey help cause in people's lives as one of his main motivations for what he does.

"Being with her puts a smile on your face," Boedeker said. "You see a change in the attitude of a person."

Therapy dogs like Smokey also help families with the recovery process of rebuilding their lives, whether it is the loss of a loved one or the damage to their valuable assets like a home.

"You have families that lost everything," said Boedeker. "When the dogs are present, during these moments their stress level reduces significantly."

Boedeker notes that when the dogs are present during these moments there is a change in their attitude.

"It's gratifying to see that happen," Boedeker said. "As they try to rebuild in the aftermath they have a better sense of well-being and think more clearly."

At eight years of age, Smokey is in her sixth year of work with TDI and her third year of disaster work. With deployments ranging from the Bastrop Fire in 2011, tornadoes in Texas and the blast in West, Texas, she has seen numerous disaster situations like many of her other counterparts.

Disaster stress relief dogs were also present during the 9/11 attacks and there are currently disaster dogs in Boston and Newtown, as well that are supplemented by regular therapy dogs.

"We have 100 dogs in Boston, 30 going to West Texas and 70 dogs still in Newtown ," Boedeker said. "These are all long-term commitments by handlers and their dog teams."

Boedeker counts the preparation as key to a team's success.

"TDI has proven that dogs can make a difference," Boedeker said. "When we deploy, we have everything we need for at least a week."

Boedeker initially got into disaster relief because he worked with someone from TDI. He had Smokey as a pup and thought she would be a good fit for the work.

"A good therapy dog gives unconditional love no matter who you are," Boedeker said. "They've got the gift of giving and all we're doing is sharing."