New Hampshire Man Pleads Guilty To Trafficking in CITES-Protected Water Monitor Lizards

Derrick Semedo, a resident of Nashua, New Hampshire, pleaded guilty today to illegally trafficking live water monitor lizards from the Philippines.

The guilty plea was announced by Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and Andrew Lelling, United States Attorney for District of Massachusetts.  

Semedo, 26, pleaded guilty in Boston before U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock to one count of wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act.   

According to plea documents, Semedo admitted to illegally importing more than 20 live water monitor lizards from the Philippines between March and December 2016, in violation of United States law and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Treaty. To avoid detection by United States customs authorities, the lizards were placed in socks, which were sealed closed with tape, and then concealed in the back panels of audio speakers or other electronic equipment. The equipment was then shipped via commercial carriers to Semedo in Massachusetts. The customs declarations accompanying the shipments identified the content as audio speakers or similar electronics.

As part of his plea, Semedo admitted that he knew the monitor lizards he received had been taken in violation of Philippine law, and that the import violated United States law. Semedo also admitted that upon receiving the monitor lizards, he sold some of them to customers, including customers in Colorado, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.  

“To remove members of endangered species from their natural habitat and illegally sell them in the United States is harmful to the animals, their native habitats, and the new ecosystems they have unwittingly invaded,” said Assistant Attorney General Clark. “The Department of Justice remains determined to work with our law enforcement partners to ensure that these endangered animals are protected.”

“Endangered species are called that for a reason,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “Illegally trafficking a protected species in violation of United States and international law is callous and short-sighted. This office will continue to target those who exploit protected animals and ecosystems for personal gain.”

“Wildlife trafficking is a transnational crime that impacts imperiled species at home and abroad,” said Edward Grace, Assistant Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement. “Monitor lizards, and other reptiles, are especially vulnerable to the illegal wildlife trade and are the silent victims of those who choose to inhumanely decimate these animals for financial gain. We would like to thank our partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Department of Justice for their assistance with this case. Together, we can continue to protect imperiled species for future generations.”

Monitor lizard is the common name for lizards comprising the genus Varanus.  Monitor lizard species (there are approximately 70) are characterized by elongated necks, heavy bodies, long-forked tongues, strong claws, and long tails. Monitor lizards have a vast geographical range and are native to Africa, Asia, and Oceania. Water monitor lizards are semi-aquatic monitor lizards endemic to South and Southeastern Asia. Water monitor lizards, as their name suggests, are water dependent and easily swim long distances. This ability has allowed them to inhabit many remote islands. Some species of water monitor lizard are common and abundant in the pet trade, while others are extremely rare and are found only on specific islands. In addition to suffering increasing habitat loss due to rainforest destruction, water monitor lizards are often illegally collected from the wild and killed for bush meat, traditional medicine, or for their skins. Water monitor lizards are also targeted due to their popularity in the international exotic pet trade. Exotic pet traders seek these water monitor lizards due to their attractive patterns, unique colors, intelligence, and rarity. The yellow-headed water monitor (Varanus cumingi), the white-headed water monitor (Varanus nuchalis), and the marbled water monitor (Varanus marmoratus), are species of large monitor lizards endemic to the Philippines.

This case is part of Operation Sounds of Silence, an ongoing effort by the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, in coordination with the Department of Justice, to prosecute those involved in the illegal taking of and trafficking in protected species, including water monitor lizards.

The investigation was handled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts, and the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section. The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Kosto and Environmental Crimes Section Trial Attorneys Gary N. Donner and Erica H. Pencak.

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Author: April 23, 2019

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