Authorities from the US Fish and Wildlife Service(USFS), have for the past month conducted one of the largest operations in Southern California, targeting the exotic animal black market. The sweep dubbed Operation Jungle Book managed to arrest 16 animal smugglers and rescue about two dozen animals.

The 16 smugglers arrested will face federal charges of illegal importation and transportation of live species, USFS, which was the lead agency in the sweep, announced Friday, after the end of the operation.

According to NBC News reports, some of the animals rescued included an underfed and underweight Bengal Tiger, which was found in a home in Ventura County, a few King Cobras from Hong Kong which were smuggled inside potato chip cans, and Asian Songbirds.

Exotic animal market

Acting US Attorney for the Central District of California, Sarah Brown, said in a statement that the desire to own one of the exotic animals created a huge demand leading to an ever-expanding black market.

She added the trade, which was an international problem, endangered the existence of vulnerable animals and put entire species at risk of extinction.

On Friday morning, some of the rescued animals were shown to the media at the USFS office in Torrance and they included two cub tigers, various coral species, monitor lizards, and exotic songbirds.

Arrested suspects

According to authorities, some of the suspects arrested in the month-long operation had already been charged and convicted of their crimes. Other offenders will appear in court soon.

50-year old Kurtis Law, for example, was arrested after attempting to smuggle 93 exotic Asian songbirds, with a black market value of around $100,000.

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The birds were flown in from Vietnam and only eight birds survived the trip. Most of them died during the 40-hour flight, while others died shortly after arriving at Los Angeles International Airport.

For his crime, Law was sentenced to one year in federal prison, and six months under house arrest afterward, with both sentences to run concurrently.

Franco Rodrigo 34, admitted to smuggling 23 King Cobras inside potato chip cans with a black market value of $46,000 in total. While conducting a search at his home, authorities also found several turtle species hidden in his kid's bedroom.

A Mexican or Morelet's crocodile was also found at his home. All the animals found in Rodrigo's possession are Endangered Species which are protected by a total of 183 countries, including the US, through a signed treaty to prevent their extinction.

The rescued animals were handed over to Colver City's Eco Station, the San Diego Zoo, the Turtle Conservancy and the Los Angeles Zoo for care.