Not The First Time
The National Park Service launched an effort called "Operation Viper" about ten years ago to monitor the illegal sale of bear organs and the poaching of ginseng roots from Shenandoah National Park.
The issues that led to Operation Viper are still on the minds of officials at the National Park Service.
"Poaching in the park happens," park spokeswoman Karen Beck-Herzog told CBS19. "We are constantly out watching the boundaries. We've got rangers with special training out looking for poachers all the time."
Operation Viper ended with more than 30 indictments.
November 28, 2011
More than 100 animals were rescued last week during a raid at the Nelson County home of Tracy and Joyce Davis. But search warrants obtained by CBS19 reveal special agents conducting the raid may have been just as concerned about animal body parts, specifically bear gallbladders, as they were about live animals.
Search warrants filed in Nelson County Circuit Court show it all started with an undercover operation by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC).
Documents show an undercover agent with ABC visited the home of Tracy Davis on Rooster Ridge Road 18 times over the past year, observing malnourished animals and bear traps and purchasing moonshine and fighting roosters.
In the search warrant affidavit, an undercover agent, referred to as "U-C", says during his visit Davis discussed his activities in the illegal trapping, baiting and harvesting of black bears in areas of the George Washington National Forest adjacent to his property.
It was during a visit in May that Davis gave the undercover agent three black bear gallbladders to re-sell for $2,000 each. Under the agreement the two would split the profit from the bear organs 50-50.
The American Bear Association (ABA) says the gallbladders are unique because bears are the only animal that produces large amounts of bile, an ingredient used in traditional medicine for centuries. The ABA says the bile can be used to treat health issues like high blood pressure, jaundice, diabetes and heart disease.
Officials say fakes have flooded the market, leading some people to go to extraordinary lengths to obtain authentic gallbladders. Bear gallbladders can sell for thousands of dollars in some countries, which has lead to an increase in poaching.
According to the documents, Davis said the gallbladders were from bears he had killed the previous year and that there was "plenty more where that came from".
In the sworn statement, the undercover agent also said Davis sold him six fighting roosters for $350 in February. Davis reportedly told the UC he used the roosters in cockfighting matches on his property.
Search warrants also revealed several items were taken from the house as evidence, including:
- bear traps and bear bait
- a distillery for making moonshine
- trimming clippers and hats related to cockfighting
- a leafy plant with seeds and a book on growing marijuana
Tracy and Joyce Davis were arrested during the raid on Nov. 22 and now face a combined 72 charges relating to animal cruelty and manufacturing moonshine.
The warrants were issued for:
- Illegal sale of wildlife body parts and organs (29.1-553)
- Manufacturing untaxed alcoholic beverages (code 4.1-300)
- Illegal sale of alcoholic beverages (code 4.1-302)
- Possession of untaxed alcoholic beverages (code 4.1-313)
- Possession of a firearm during the manufacturing and sale of untaxed alcoholic beverages (code 4.1-318)
- Animal cruelty (codes 3.2-6570 and 3.2-6571)
Tracy is behind bars at the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail waiting for his first court appearance, which has been scheduled for Dec. 7.
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