Honolulu Star-Bulletin - Kokua Line

Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Wednesday, August 18, 1999

Possession of illegal animal
can result in hefty fine

Question: Has there ever been a fine imposed for the horrendously stupid act of importing an illegal reptile to the state of Hawaii? If so, what has been the highest fine levied? In the nearly 40 years I have lived here, I have read and heard of the capture and sighting of alligators (cayman), boa constrictors and other illegal animal life over and over again, but the most severe punishment I can recall goes something like, "Turn yourself in and you are off scot-free." While we're on the topic, what is the state and federal expenditure for the enforcement of this law?

Answer: The highest fine levied is believed to be $25,000.

Domingo Cravalho, animal specialist with the state Department of Agriculture's plant quarantine division, said the most recent and severest case he can recall involved the prosecution of two Big Island men in 1995.

Each man was found to be in possession of a python.

Because of the growing numbers of snakes being found here, the governor requested that the head of the Board of Agriculture write a letter to the Big Island prosecutor seeking the maximum penalty -- $25,000 and one year in jail, Cravalho said.

One man received a $25,000 fine and spent six months in jail. The other had to wear an electronic bracelet for one year, and had his $25,000 fine split into $2,500 cash and $22,500 worth of community service, he said.

The amnesty program you refer to "is built into the law," he said.

No penalty is assessed if you voluntarily turn in an illegal animal. The idea is that it's better to have the animal in hand rather than risk it being turned loose in the bush.

"However, we try to the fullest, if we have enough information from an informant, to proceed with a search warrant and conduct an investigation where we can seize an illegal animal, whether it be a snake, piranha or tarantula," Cravalho said. "We will go after an individual and prosecute in court.

But it's a matter of getting "credible information," he said.

In the early 1990s, enforcement was stepped up, Cravalho noted, with his department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources forming a task force.

"We did go out and close a lot of cases. At that time, we were under the impression that there were several people dealing in the trade. We shut down two of them and the other two stopped. That was 1992."

It would be difficult to tally the cost of enforcing the illegal-animal law, a Department of Agriculture spokeswoman said, since no one is assigned just to track down violators.

Today, the thrust is to educate the public about the dangers of bringing in exotic animals to Hawaii, Cravalho said.

"The normal Hawaii citizen is concerned about these matters and will comply," he said. "It's that other, say 5 percent, the hard-core illegal animal enthusiasts -- those are the ones we are going to have to prosecute."

Tunnel vision

In the Aug. 14 Kokua Line, a state Department of Transportation spokeswoman was quoted as saying signs advising drivers to turn on headlights while driving through tunnels are just that -- merely advisory. Not so, said the Honolulu Police Department. Section 15-19.2 of the Revised Ordinances of Honolulu says, "every vehicle upon a highway within a tunnel shall at all hours display lighted lamps, illuminating devices and tail lamps."

Need help with problems? Call Kokua Line at 525-8686,
fax 525-6711, or write to P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu 96802.
Email to kokualine@starbulletin.com

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