A Star, Idaho, man’s citation for illegally collecting reptiles reveals a black market that threatens lizards and other desert species.
A menagerie of reptiles confiscated this week in a state investigation of illegal snake and lizard collecting and trading included five colorful but venomous Gila monsters that could end up in Zoo Boise.
Russell George Jones was charged with illegally taking wildlife in other states, according to Ada County records. Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials say he also faces additional charges that could cost him $5,000 in fines and 2-1/2 years in jail, if convicted.
Jones is scheduled for arraignment Nov. 5.
Once Fish and Game is finished with the Gila monsters, the agency has expressed an interest in donating them to Zoo Boise, zoo manager David Wayne said Thursday.
“We’ve been looking for some all summer long,” he said. “We have room for them.”
In addition to seizing the Gila monsters, Fish and Game officers confiscated eight snakes, a desert tortoise and other animals from Jones.
Four of the Gila monsters were collected in Arizona. Three patch-nosed snakes and a speckled rattlesnake were collected in Nevada, Fish and Game conservation officer Bill London said.
The desert tortoise is an endangered species. A federal investigation of Jones is continuing.
Records collected by conservation officers showed Jones had moved more than $15,000 worth of reptiles over 13 months. He legally collected rattlesnakes in Idaho’s desert and shipped them to reptile wholesalers, who would ship him back other animals he would sell to pet stores, London said.
The illegal lizard trade is a multimillion-dollar enterprise that flourishes in the Southwest and threatens the existence of several species.
“It’s a huge black market,” London said.
But the illegal market runs alongside a lucrative legal market for lizards and snakes that makes the unlawful trade even more difficult to curb. Captive-bred Gila monsters can be sold legally and go for as much as $1,800. Breeders of illegally obtained Gilas can sell the offspring as captive-bred stock.
“That kind of puts a loophole in the law,” said Debbie Wiggins, a veterinarian and member of the Idaho Herpetological Society. “The main predator of these animals is humans.”