New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office Seeks Forfeiture of Taxidermied Tiger Imported Into The United States
NEWARK, N.J. – The New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office today announced the filing of a civil asset forfeiture action seeking the forfeiture of a full mount taxidermied female tiger (panthera tigris), which the government alleges was imported into the United States in violation of the Endangered Species Act and without a valid importation permit, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
The tiger — according to the forfeiture complaint, a captive-bred female, born on Sept. 26, 2000 — was seized at the Port of Newark by wildlife inspectors with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) when its owner attempted to import the tiger into the United States as part of a household move from France.
According to the complaint filed in Newark federal court:
Tigers (panthera tigris), the largest wild cat in the world, are carnivorous mammals of prehistoric origin characterized by their coat of reddish-orange fur, which is marked by dark stripes. Trophy hunting (until it was banned), and a market for tiger rugs and coats, threatened tigers’ survival. Today, habitat destruction, human population growth, and a demand for tiger parts threaten their survival. For over 27 years, all species of tigers have been classified as endangered under U.S law and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (“CITES”). This classification represents the most highly protected species of wildlife, and includes those species that are threatened with extinction or whose survival is or may be affected by trade.
The importation or exportation of endangered species (alive or dead) for any purpose — including non-commercial shipment — is authorized only in exceptional circumstances, and requires an export permit from the originating country and an import permit from USFWS, one of the federal agencies responsible for enforcing the Endangered Species Act.
On Nov. 24, 2014, the tiger was included in a cargo shipment of household goods exported from the Port of Le Havre, in France. The shipment arrived in the United States at the Port of Newark on or about Dec. 3, 2014. The customs broker filed the USFWS declaration form required for the international shipment of wildlife to or from the United States and included a CITES certificate issued by the European Union. The CITES certificate, however, permitted the tiger to be transported only within the European Union and specifically stated that it was “not for use outside the European Community.”
Import and export permits for endangered species of wildlife can be obtained only if the CITES Scientific Authority of the importing country has made a determination that trade in this specimen will not be detrimental to the survival of the species and that the imported wildlife will not be used for commercial purposes. In the United States, the agency authorized to grant or deny a certificate authorizing the import of such wildlife is the USFWS’s Division of Management Authority.
The Endangered Species Act authorizes USFWS to seize any specimen that is illegally imported or exported. On Jan. 2, 2015, USFWS formally refused the shipment of the tiger. On Jan. 9, 2015, the USFWS sent notice of the seizure and its intent to forfeit the tiger to its owner, who now resides in New York City. On April 1, 2015, the owner filed a claim with USFWS contesting the forfeiture. The filing of the claim triggered the government’s obligation to either release the property or bring the forfeiture action in court, where the owner may contest it.
Civil forfeiture cases are “in rem” proceedings — or proceedings against things. In this case, the complaint is brought against the taxidermied tiger, not its owner or any other person.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited the wildlife inspectors of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service for initiating the investigation and detention of the tiger at the Port of Newark.
The government is represented by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Devlin of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Unit and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen P. O’Leary of the office’s Healthcare and Government Fraud Unit in Newark.