Florida's wildlife officials said eight people have been arrested in a years-long illegal snake trafficking operation where hundreds of snakes – some venomous – were bought or sold.
Nearly 200 snakes – consisting of 24 species from seven different regions of the globe – were purchased or sold by undercover FWC investigators to or from wildlife traffickers during the three-year investigation, called "Operation Viper," the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said in a news release.
Charges were filed against eight people. ranging from second-degree misdemeanors or third-degree felonies related to the illegal trafficking of venomous and prohibited snakes.
FWC released the names of the eight people arrested on the alleged charges:
- Delvin Eugene Sasnett, 32, of Eagle Lake, FL
- William Chase Agee, 32, of Holly Hill, FL
- Dylan Isaac Levin, 30, of Palm Beach Gardens, FL
- Edward Daniel Bays, 29, of Southwest Ranches, FL
- Jorge Javier Gonzalez, 23, of Miami, FL
- Paul Edward Miller, 43, of Cape Coral, FL
- Joseph David Switalski Jr, 38, of Plantation, FL
- Timothy James Gould, 37, of Pennsylvania
"Some of these snakes are among the most dangerous in the world," said Maj. Randy Bowlin, FWC DLE Investigations and Intelligence Section Leader, in a statement. "Florida’s rules and laws are in place to protect the public and prevent tragedies from occurring."
Some of the snake species included the inland taipan, bushmaster, rhinoceros viper, African bush viper, Gaboon viper, green mamba, eyelash viper, multiple species of spitting cobra, forest cobra, puff adder, and saw-scaled vipers.
The FWC said they'd been receiving "intelligence reports and complaints" indicating that a black market exists for the sale and purchase of illegal and highly dangerous venomous reptiles in Florida.
A lot of the illegal activity was intimated on specialized websites or closed social media pages, according to the FWC. Once the black market deals were arranged, the violators would have in-person meetings with undercover agents where they arranged to buy or sell the snakes with full knowledge that they were unlicensed and could not purchase the snakes legally.
Wildlife trafficking ranks fourth behind drugs, weapons, and humans in global activity according to the FWC. The Wildlife Conservation Society estimates illicit wildlife trafficking to be between $7.8 billion and $10 billion per year.