Smuggling animals has become a growing business over the last handful of years. A California man attempted to transport not one or two animals illegally but more than 1,700 wild animals over the span of six years. These include 60 reptiles hidden in his clothing.
Jose Manuel Perez and his accomplices had been transporting animals into the United States from Mexico and Hong Kong between 2016 and February 2022. Most of the animals were reptiles, including Yucatan box turtles, Mexican box turtles, baby crocodiles and Mexican beaded lizards.
According to the United States Department of Justice, it’s illegal to import animals without permits under an international treaty on the trade of endangered species. Perez paid his accomplices a crossing fee to drive animals from Mexico into El Paso, Texas. There, he shipped them to his family’s Ventura County home and resold them to customers throughout the country.
The 30-year-old also made several trips to Mexico himself to pick up animals. On February 25, 2022, he was arrested while trying to enter the U.S. with 60 reptiles. At that time, the smuggled animals reptiles were worth around $739,000.
To evade capture, Perez fled to Tijuana in June 2022 but was quickly found and returned to the United States. He pleaded guilty to federal charges of two counts of smuggling and one charge of wildlife trafficking. He could face up to 20 years in federal prison when sentenced on December 1.