In an unprecedented case from Texas, a couple was apprehended upon an attempt to sell an exotic South American feline, specifically a jaguar cub, to an undercover special agent. As told by court files, the couple had already engaged in a similar transaction with the same agent a month prior, involving a different exotic cat. These dealings were in direct violation of the federal Big Cat Public Safety Act, an offence confirmed by the US Southern District of Texas Attorney’s Office.
The initial transaction took place on August 24, where 29-year-old Rafael Gutierrez-Galvan met with an undercover Homeland Security Investigations agent at a local Academy Sports and Outdoors parking lot. During this clandestine encounter, Gutierrez-Galvan exchanged a margay cat for $7,500.
Approximately one calendar month following the initial offense, the two parties convened once again for the handover of the endangered jaguar cub. As federal authorities cornered Gutierrez-Galvan at the location, he innocuously justified his presence by stating he was simply present to sell a cat.
Simultaneously, federal agents were maintaining surveillance at Gutierrez-Galvan’s house. Further proving the coordinated nature of the offense was when agents witnessed Deyanira Garza, Gutierrez-Galvan’s wife, exiting the residence with what looked to be a peculiar case.
Before managing to rendezvous with her husband, Garza was intercepted by an Alamo police officer who pulled her over for a basic motor vehicle infraction. During the halting, she revealed the case’s contents consisted of money. Following this, Garza was taken into custody where she confessed that neither her husband nor herself were licensed to conduct any form of business concerning exotic animals.
In the event of a guilty verdict, this Texan couple could potentially face a five-year stint in federal prison, coupled with a substantial fine amounting to $20,000. This case represents the first of its kind since the enforcement of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, as announced by US Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani.
This law, established in December 2022, prohibits the importation, exportation, sale, and private ownership of big cats, including their cubs. The Act labels species such as lions, tigers, snow and clouded leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, cougars/pumas/mountain lions and any form of panther as illegal pets.
Notably, the Act does grant some leniency for those who owned these exotic animals prior to its enforcement. These individual or entity owners are allowed to maintain possession, on the condition that they register their animals with the Fish and Wildlife Service.