It's true, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Ed Newcomer, that the internet has made wildlife crime easier, and easier to hide.
But it's also made it easier for wildlife law enforcement agents to pose as potential customers - and to catch people.
"What works for criminals also works for us," said Newcomer
"That's the engine that really drives this train," said Newcomer
The drive that pushes people to buy such things as bird-eating spiders, giant African scorpions, poisonous snakes, macabre furniture and other ornaments made from animal parts is, said Newcomer
, as simple as the desire to want something that nobody else has.
The buyers are frequently people in upper income levels who simply seem to be taken by a novelty of the moment.
The crime is compounded when the new owners of live exotic creatures become bored - and decide to dump them in the wild.
That has helped place Florida at the top of the list of states with invasive species.
California, where Newcomer
is based, has its share.
How much illegal wildlife is available on the internet?
said it's difficult to know; there is no authoritative, dependable research.
But as someone who spends time chasing internet crime, he's
confident the numbers run to the thousands.
thrives on the challenge; he
relishes telling the story about how he
colleagues nabbed a man in Los Angeles not long ago who billed himself as "the world's most wanted butterfly smuggler.
$14,000 worth of protected butterflies and would have sold him $300,000 worth, if Newcomer
had had the cash.
The smuggler is spending two years in a federal prison.
The agents' undercover work is as much a battle of wits as anything else; they must change their tactics often - to fit the changing tactics of the people they are after.
Newcomer, who earned a law degree before deciding he wanted to be a wildlife agent, isn't discouraged.
"Everything I work for is incapable of dialing 9-1-1," said Newcomer