TORRANCE, Calif. – From a baby tiger cub to monitor lizards and a macaw, authorities have seized dozens of animals and filed charges against 16 people as part of what they say is the largest wildlife trafficking sweep in Southern California.
Federal authorities call the sweep "Operation Jungle Book" and say it's an effort to combat a growing illegal market for exotic animals that threatens the survival of species.
"An insatiable desire to own examples — both living and dead — of these vulnerable creatures is fueling this black market," Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown said in a statement.
Among the animals seized are king cobras, turtles, fish and a Bengal tiger cub that a California man said he bought on the streets of Tijuana, Mexico, for $300.
Luis Eudoro Valencia has pleaded not guilty to smuggling the kitten into the U.S. after border officials found the cub lying on the passenger-side floor of his car in August.
If convicted, Valencia faces up to 20 years in prison.
The cub now lives at the San Diego Zoo.
Among other pending cases are those of a man who is accused of using Facebook to illegally sell feathers from protected migratory birds and bald eagles, and three people alleged to have traded in protected live corals.
"Wildlife trafficking does not stop at international borders, and it is our duty to protect imperiled species both at home and abroad," said Ed Grace, acting chief of law enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.