For 10 years, two Malaysian men smuggled endangered animal parts all over the world until undercover agents caught them in Oregon.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Wildlife trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar criminal enterprise. This underground network of criminals smuggles protected animal parts to buyers across the globe, including in Oregon.
“A lot of people wonder why would anyone want an orangutan skull on their mantel,” said Special Agent Paul Montuori of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Folks want what they can’t have.”
Special Agent Montuori gave KGW a rare look inside a wildlife smuggling investigation. The case tracked the illegal shipment of orangutan skulls, bird beaks and other protected animal parts from the Malaysian island of Borneo to Portland, Oregon.
“They were smuggling a massive amount of wildlife all over the world. Not just to Oregon but all over the world,” said Montuori.
To help illustrate the problem, the federal agent laid out animal parts seized in the case. Plastic bags marked “evidence” covered a conference room table. There were haunting-looking monkey skulls, the head of an endangered bird and whale bones carved into a decoration.
“I mean, this is just a drop in the bucket,” said Montuori. “If you had all of the wildlife that they smuggled since the business began in 2005, you’d have a whole roomful of wildlife.”
The investigation started in 2013 when a routine search of an international package turned up part of a Helmeted Hornbill. The endangered bird lives in the rainforest of East Asia. A jawbone of the protected bird was being shipped to a home in Forest Grove.
The Oregon buyer eventually cooperated with federal agents and admitted to paying thousands of dollars for illegal animal parts including orangutan skulls, a turtle shell and more.
Court records show the buyer found the protected animal parts through a website operating from the Malaysian island of Borneo. That led Special Agent Montuori right to the source.
“We wanted to trace back to who was actually making the most amount of money off of the wildlife,” said Montuori.
Posing as the Oregon buyer, the undercover agent emailed the smugglers. He asked why they listed whale items as “organic bone from the sea” on their website. The smugglers responded, “I’ll be in hot soup (or worst gunned down by FBI) and removed by eBay if stated they are whale bones on eBay.”
After ordering several illegal animal parts, the undercover agent arranged for the smugglers to fly to Portland for a business meeting.
Surveillance video obtained by KGW shows the undercover agent speaking with the smugglers. Animal parts appear to be laid out on a table between the men.
“That was very effective because they talked about the wildlife being endangered and that we should probably be careful about what we were doing,” said Montuori.
The men asked to take a smoke break during the meeting. Moments later, federal agents moved in.
“To be able to bring to justice two individuals who were able to smuggle wildlife all over the world, it’s big,” said Montuori.
The two Malaysian nationals, Eoin Ling Churn Yeng, 35, and Galvin Yeo Siang Ann, 33, were sentenced to six months in federal prison.
“It’s a global market,” said Gary Young, Special Agent in Charge of the FWS Pacific Region.
Young believes the Internet has helped fuel this black market.
“When the desire is there and the people are willing to pay for it, the wildlife is the one that loses,” said Young. “They will be poached to the point they are no longer around.”
Published May 25, 2016.