Free World - September 15, 2021

Just south of the U.S. border, the trafficker was preparing to load his car with…


Just south of the U.S. border, the trafficker was preparing to load his car with contraband when he got a message from his accomplice.

For years, the men had carried out one of the most successful cross-border trades in illicit wildlife, moving millions of dollars in exotic animals across the Rio Grande, many of them endangered species.

There were the crocodiles, the boa constrictors, the Central American river turtles. But this morning’s run was particularly challenging: six adult toucans, known for their loud squawk.

“Tape their beaks so they do not make noise and tie them up very well,” one trafficker messaged the other.

What the two men didn’t know was that their communications would wind up in the hands of U.S. federal prosecutors. Those intercepts — over more than four years — led this month to one of the country’s highest-profile convictions of a cross-border wildlife trafficker.

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