The couple is also accused of allegedly attempting to sell a margay cub; both animals are on the endangered species list
Rafael Gutierrez-Galvan, 29, and his wife Deyanira Garza, 28, of Alamo, Texas, appeared in McAllen federal court Wednesday, according to U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani, who announced the arrests in a statement released by the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of Texas.
They are the first to be charged under the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which prohibits the sale of protected wildlife, federal prosecutors said.
According to the criminal complaint, Gutierrez-Galvan had sold a margay cub on Aug. 24 for $7,500 in a local Academy Sports and Outdoors parking lot.
Two days later, on Sept. 26, Gutierrez-Galvan attempted to sell a jaguar cub to the same individual, according to the report. He allegedly instructed his wife to bring a case of cash from their residence to the location and it was then that law enforcement conducted a traffic stop before she could arrive and discovered the money.
When federal agents approached Gutierrez-Galvan, according to a report in the Laredo Morning Times, he reportedly stated in Spanish, "I'm just here to sell a cat."
Neither Gutierrez-Galvan nor Garza possess a license to buy, sell, trade or transport exotic animals such as margays and jaguars. Authorities said they recovered both animals.
The Big Cat Act, which was enacted in December 2022, prohibits the importation, transportation, sale and possession of prohibited wildlife species. Additionally, the Endangered Species Act prohibits the importation, exportation, sale and transportation of threatened and endangered species.
The World Animal Protection, US, organization, which helped enact the Big Cat Act, applauded the work authorities did.
"It is devastating to hear stories of big cat cubs being exploited and sold for private possession," said Cameron Harsh, the organization's programs director, in a statement to PEOPLE.
"This is exactly what the Big Cat Public Safety Act ... is meant to do — bring criminal charges against the individuals perpetrating the trade of big cats in the U.S. and help eliminate this exploitation altogether."
Harsh said that “thousands of lions, tigers, and other big cats are languishing in small, decrepit cages” and that “some are repeatedly bred to produce a steady supply of cubs who are used and abused for expensive photo ops and likes on social media.”
If convicted, Gutierrez-Galvan and Garza face up to five years in federal prison and a possible $20,000 maximum fine, the U.S. Attorneys Office said in their report. They added that authorities were aided by the Fish and Wildlife Service and Homeland Security Investigations with the assistance of Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Houston and San Antonio Zoos.
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