Why Are Box Turtles Disappearing? This Could Explain

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A New Jersey man was sentenced in federal court to conspiring with others to purchase, transport and sell more than 1,000 box turtles unlawfully collected in Oklahoma, U.S. Attorney Trent Shores said.

A Mannford, Oklahoma hotel housekeeper entered a room, after being told for a week not to clean it, and discovered the turtles. She tipped off local law enforcement, and this eventually led to successfully dismantling an international wildlife smuggling operation.

Chief U.S. District Judge John E. Dowdell sentenced William T. Gangemi, 27, of Freehold, New Jersey, to two years of probation. The judge also ordered Gangemi to pay $250,000 in restitution to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and a $100,000 fine to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“It’s been an honor for us to work with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in bringing this case to justice, and for sending a message that crimes against wildlife will not be tolerated,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Amy Lueders.

“Unfortunately, every day, crimes are committed against wildlife. But whenever a wildlife poacher or trafficker is held accountable for their crimes, it gives us a precedent case that allows us to better protect these resources for generations to come. In addition, the court-ordered restitution funds will go toward vital conservation programs that will mitigate damage caused by poaching and wildlife smuggling.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Special Agent in Charge Phillip Land, said, “This case is an excellent example of how state and federal law enforcement agencies work together to combat the illegal wildlife trade. We will continue to vigorously investigate wildlife crime to hold traffickers accountable and protect imperiled species for future generations. We would like to thank the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their assistance with this case.”

Oklahoma Wildlife Department Chief of Law Enforcement Nathan Erdman said, “This case required assistance from officers across the nation. First, Game Wardens Karlin Bailey and Carlos Gomez did an outstanding job with this investigation. This is a prime example of how a simple phone call from a concerned citizen can lead to large cases and convictions. I would like to thank the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their assistance with this case. I would also like to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Oklahoma, for the prosecution.”

From May 1, 2017, to May 31, 2018, Gangemi knowingly facilitated the purchase and transport of unlawfully collected three-toed and western (ornate) box turtles from Oklahoma to New Jersey in order to sell them for profit.

Box turtles can live beyond 100 years of age, and inhabit both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. This makes them important indicators of environmental health. They eat fruit and are important for seed distribution. They also eat insects and carrion, curbing the spread of disease.

Additionally, they serve as predators of fish, amphibians, snakes, mollusks, and worms.

By smuggling the turtles, Gangemi violated the Lacey Act, a federal law that makes it a felony to engage in the sale or purchase of protected wildlife, that was taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of state laws or regulations.

In Oklahoma, the collection of both types of box turtles for commercial purposes is against the law. Box turtles reach sexual maturity at about 10 years old and have a high nest and juvenile mortality rate. Due to these factors, turtle harvest can have highly detrimental impacts on populations.

Lueders said, “As a nation, we are very fortunate to have had the Lacey Act for the last 120 years, prohibiting trade in illegally taken wildlife, fish and plants.” Those who came before us knew the importance of protecting wildlife from unlawful trade, and this law remains relevant each time a poacher or wildlife smuggler is charged.”

“The success of this case is an excellent example of how crucial partnerships are to the critical work we do,” she said. “It exemplifies the mission of our agency and our ability to achieve this mission depends on these partnerships.”

You can learn more about this case here: https://oklahoman.com/article/5653891/its-a-species-that-is-getting-plunderedbrnew-jersey-man-must-pay-350000-for-smuggling-oklahoma-turtles

For more information regarding the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, please visit: https://www.fws.gov/le/ To report wildlife crime, please visit: https://www.fws.gov/refuges/lawEnforcement/report-wildlife-crimes.php

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is authorized to pay rewards for information or assistance that leads to an arrest, a criminal conviction, civil penalty assessment, or forfeiture of seized property. Payment of rewards is the discretion of the Service and is linked to specific federal wildlife laws. The amount of any reward we may pay is commensurate with the information or assistance received. Please discuss the possibility of receiving a reward with the Service personnel receiving your information or assistance.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit www.fws.gov, or connect with us through any of these social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube.

Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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