BLACK MARKET: ABC13 goes into the dark world of exotic animal sales

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- You can pretty much buy anything online these days, but some unscrupulous individuals are using areas of the web to sell illegal and exotic animals.

Whether they're shipped from overseas or captured here in the U.S. If you know where to look, you may be able to find them. But authorities in Houston are keeping an eye out and need your help if you see something suspicious.

Last month, a caged tiger was discovered in an abandoned home in Houston. After an anonymous tip to 311, authorities and animal control experts discovered the tiger. It was seized and transported to a sanctuary north of Houston, where it will spend the rest of its life.

In another case, a bobcat was being sold in the Houston area illegally for $1,000. Officials discovered it on Craigslist and started communicating with the seller.

"The guy agreed to sell it, which is against the law, you can't barter, trade or sell a wild animal that's prohibited by the law" Harris County Pct. 1, Constable Alan Rosen said.

Sometimes, illegal animals are sold on the dark web as well.

"It offers them everything they need to execute criminal transactions on the internet without the usual risk of being caught. Reptiles, poisonous snakes that are illegal to own in most states without a license," said Terry, a digital forensics expert.

For those buying and selling on the dark web, transactions are mostly done with crypto-currencies.

"Bitcoin, it pretty much rules the dark web" Terry added.

Now in some areas outside of Houston city limits, it is legal to own certain types of wildlife if you have the proper permits. However, if you reside within the city, possessing those animals are illegal.

While it's difficult to monitor everything online for these types of illegal sales, authorities do rely on the public for help. It was Harris County Pct. 1 that teamed up with other agencies on the bobcat.

"The animal was seized by us and Texas Parks and Wildlife, and the animal is now at the SPCA where it's being looked at by veterinarians and making sure that it's healthy," Constable Rosen said.

They believe it was captured by some kind of wildlife trap. Once it's healthy, the SPCA will release it back into the wild. As far as the individual who was selling the animal, there could be consequences.

"It's a Class A misdemeanor and there's usually a fine associated with it. Probably up to $10,000," Constable Rosen said.
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