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Did you know that smuggling endangered species can be a US crime?

According to the World Wildlife Foundation, the African black rhinoceros is critically endangered, as are other members of the rapidly-decreasing rhino family. Unfortunately, illegal wildlife trade continues to be one of the main threats to the species. Why?

The WWF says that certain people in Vietnam suffer from the dismayingly false belief that rhinoceros horn cures cancer. More broadly, rhino horn is used in some traditional Asian medicine to treat other illnesses ranging from hangovers to blood disorders. Unfortunately, adherents to these completely discredited theories will pay a lot of money for rhino horn -- and that means rhino poachers, killers and smugglers have a lot to gain.

As the international community struggles to deal with this horrible tragedy, it has become clear that setting up protected habitats and declaring poaching to be illegal are not enough. According to the organization Save the Rhino, 1,215 rhinos were poached illegally last year in South Africa alone, part of a quickly-rising trend that has lasted since 2008. Ultimately, 170 countries -- including the U.S. -- signed a treaty called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, promising to protect plants and animals when international trade endangers them.

Recently, a Canadian antiques dealer was caught attempting to purchase two black rhino horns and then trying to smuggle them from New York to Washington State, and then north to his antiques store. In fact, he was caught by a sting operation run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. An undercover agent helped to facilitate the incident, offering $45,000 for the horns

A search warrant found rhino horns at his antique store in Canada, along with elephant ivory and sea coral, both of which are protected by both U.S. and Canadian law. Illegal narcotics were also discovered. Ultimately, he pled guilty, and application of the federal sentencing guidelines resulted in a sentence of 30 months in federal prison.

Obviously, the stakes are quite high in cases like this one, and emotions can run high. It's important to understand that federal law enforcement authorities work months or years on each case, and that the federal sentencing guidelines can be harsh. If you're ever accused of a federal crime, it's crucial to hire an attorney who knows how the federal criminal justice system works -- and to do it right away.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Smuggler of Rhino Horn, Ivory & Coral Sentenced," March 26, 2015

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