May 30, 2021
A Montreal woman has been arrested on charges of trying to cross the U.S. border into Canada with “numerous undeclared wildlife items,” including a three-toed sloth, 18 crocodile skulls and heads and seven crocodile feet, according to documents filed in federal court in Vermont.
Both sloth and crocodile are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the Bennington Banner reported Friday.
Vanessa Rondeau, the owner of The Old Cavern Boutique in Montreal, also was alleged to be in possession of two horseshoe crabs, 30 sea stars, 23 racoon feet, eight African antelope horns, one human skull “with mounted butterflies,” four puffer fish and six shark jaws on Wednesday when she attempted to cross the border at Highgate Springs, Vermont, according to the criminal complaint.
All wildlife must be declared to the Fish and Wildlife Service upon import into the United States and prior to its export from the United States, under the Endangered Species Act.
An email was sent to Rondeau’s public defender seeking comment.
Rondeau entered the U.S. 18 times between November 2018 and September 2019, mostly at the Champlain, New York, port of entry, including a dozen times between midnight and 2 a.m.., Ryan Bessey, a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wrote in an affidavit.
Working undercover Bessey asked Rondeau in a private message in January 2020 if she had any polar bear skulls for sale, the affidavit states. Rondeau offered to sell a skull for $780 and Bessey received it in the mail, he said. Bessey bought another polar bear skull from Rondeau for $711, he said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had also intercepted packages she sent containing skulls from a bird, a weasel, a bat and the skin from a Hartmann’s zebra, another protected species, the affidavit states.
The Old Cavern Boutique “offers for sale a variety of unique curiosity and oddity items, many composed in whole or in part from wildlife,” Bessey wrote.
The Lacey Act prohibits the trafficking of items that come from endangered species.