Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 789, September 21, 2014

2 to the chest,& 1 to the head,
puts the terrorist down and dead

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The Politics of Contraband & The Reptile Smuggler's Blues
by Jeff Fullerton

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

He's back!

That John Tokosh, reptile smuggler of local Pennsylvania fame is a tenacious fellow.
I first heard of him back in the late 1990s when he was busted by the PA Fish and Boat Commission in a sting operation involving the illegal sale of a bog turtle from a plain clothes officer in Breezewood, a major interchange on the turnpike in the south / central part of the the state and a hop skip and a jump from Harrisburg! Talk about being not so bright—the meeting place itself smelled of a setup—at least in my perception. Much like the price list I had gotten in my younger days from the Atlanta Wildlife Exchange; which a few years later turned out to be a front for the US Fish & Wildlife in the infamous Snake Scam of the 1980s. To this day I lament loosing the price list which had a handwritten note on it saying they were interested in obtaining Wood & Bog Turtles. I actually thought about inquiring whether they would consider trading wood turtles for spotted turtles—as I was a little put off by the going price for spotts in the $35 range. (a real steal in today's market!)

Fortunately I didn't fall for that one and actually got to have and enjoy quite a few native turts while they were still legal to have once I learned where to go to collect them or just buy a few captive bred hatchlings at a reptile show. And that price list with the note sure would have made a great conversation piece these days. I thought that ever since I read Raymond Hoser's Smuggled: The Underground Trade in Australia's Wildlife which in addition to the main focus on the illegal trade of Australian reptiles and birds and official corruption also details Snake Scam and some other notable incidents of reptile smuggling in the US.

The book was very influential in turning me against all forms of prohibition and sting operations in which the government encourages people to break laws in order to score big busts. By the time I read that passage in Atlas Shrugged for the first time where one of the villains flat out declared that they wanted people to break laws—it was no mystery to me why.
The book also taught me a few smuggling techniques that proved useful for carrying a few small snakes and turtles through airport security in my younger, bolder days—until the advent of 9-11 and frisking and fondling by the TSA put an end to "Pocket Express"!

But in the fashion of El Neil and Dick Bartlett (In Search of Reptiles and Amphibians) I digress!

John Tokosh who already had a few more bog turtles in possession at home in addition to numerous other stuff. If he had just quit while he was ahead. But alas once they had nailed him in an illegal transaction they had license to descend upon his private residence to unveil his entire operation which allegedly had numerous North American Wood Turtles, Spotted Turtles and Eastern Box (the PA Big 3!) and more! They hit him at full capacity the spokesperson for the PFBC said. This guy was obviously a bad apple and it is unfortunate that because of people like him we all have to be turned into outlaws. It's just like the gun grabber mentality. Because some people will do bad things everyone must be punished and kept under control. An elusive promise of a perfect world at the expense of personal happiness and freedom.

As the reptile hobby got yet another black eye with the conservation officers proudly displaying tubs of Wood Turtles and other rare and endangered species.
Tokosh did not get punished too harshly the first time around. Just confiscation of the animals and some fines. But he made news again several years later getting caught—by the Fish & Wildlife Service—smuggling Indian Star Tortoises. He ended up doing some jail time for that. And being a proverbial hog for punishment—yet again just recently he turned up in the news pertaining to a smuggling ring that was trafficking turtles from the US to China.

That may be his final act. Then again I wonder if they will just turn him loose so they can bust him again. This guy is obviously a reliable performer when it comes to Catch & Release Law Enforcement!

They say people like these animals because they are rare. I liked them before they were rare and who do we have to thank for that?
But just because they are rare should be no excuse for a police state. If they had legalized captive breeding of native reptiles back in the days when it was still legal to take and possess a few for personal use—they would not be so rare and expensive and appealing to criminal enterprise. However the professional herpetologists and conservationists remained wedded to the contraband approach. They argued that allowing legal trade would encourage poachers to do their thing and launder wild caught animals and offspring from gravid females being held as "captive bred". It's essentially a rehash of the arguments to rationalize the Drug War: about how much worse it would be if drugs were legalized. Just like it would be a blood bath in the streets if everyone had machine guns. Never mind that illegal drugs which suddenly became a clear and present danger in the early 20th Century have been legal for previous span of human history going back to the Stone Age! It has more to do with the cultural decay of the modern city than the drugs themselves. And the same case can be made with guns as prior to the time when the majority the American population shifted from rural to urban life—kids could even be trusted to carry guns to school so they could go hunting or target shooting on the way home.

That's what you get when you have authorities conditioning people to be helpless and compliant on one hand—letting experts handle all the important stuff—and a destructive counter-culture on the other that says if it feels good do it and encourages kids to kill cops and whoever else gets in their way. Plus the doomsters telling them they have no future so there are no consequences.

Making it illegal for us to have and breed native reptiles did not stop the likes of John Tokosh and other notorious reptile poachers from strip mining Pennsylvania's wood turtle populations to the edge of threatened status—any more than drug prohibition has kept drugs off the streets and out of schools and prisons. And gun bans have not put an end to mass shootings. All these things have accomplished is to make the problems worse. Drugs are easier to get than cigarettes, people are in more danger because of increased gang violence and laws that make it harder to acquire the means of self defense. And there is a lucrative market for wild caught turtles because the regulatory policies of wildlife agencies discourage or prohibit captive breeding of rare species.

It's the politics of contraband and the reptile smuggler's blues!

End notes:

I never transported anything illegal by "Pocket Express". Just to bring an occasional critter home or take some offspring to a friend across country back in the day. Sometimes they were even ok with stuff openly declared in carry on luggage and I often carried fish openly in bags of water—like the time in Florida where I walked onto a flight with a bag of Dollar Sunfishes that was forgotten in the hotel room when we packed up a box of fish for Air Cargo. Imagine that today with the TSA going apeshit over the perils of liquid explosives!

Have yet to fly since 9/11 and given the hassles of just routine flight—forget transporting live goods—I may never fly again- unless air travel goes the way of the airship boarding routine detailed in the Probability Broach which like recommendations for conservation as a commercial enterprise always seems to get scoffed at by the Sheeple who think that only government sponsored expertise can get it right.

Raymond Hoser—reptile enthusiast and author from Australia has a colorful résumé of other books exposing official corruption in the Land Down Under as well as a few stories to tell of reprisals by authorities who didn't like being exposed. Like the account of a pair of monitor lizards that were confiscated from him and later turned up in the US where they were allegedly purchased by a man who became the first to captive breed the species in this country. My memory is hazy as it has been quite a while since I borrowed the first "Smuggled" book from a friend—but I think it was Dick Bartlett!

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