BUFFALO, N.Y. (CN) – Wildlife experts expressed disappointment Friday on the heels of a New Yorker’s indictment on charges that he trafficked dozens of wild cats native to Africa.
“Unfortunately our borders are not airtight to illegally trafficked wildlife,” Kate Dylewsky, a senior policy advisor at the Animal Welfare Institute, said in a phone interview. “This business is very lucrative.”
Christopher Casacci, 38, of Amherst, a suburb outside Buffalo, was arraigned Thursday in Buffalo on charges that he imported and sold dozens of caracals and servals through his website ExoticCubs.com. Prosecutors say he falsely listed the animals on shipping forms as domesticated breeds such as savannah and bengal cats. Casacci pleaded not guilty.
Caracals, also known as the desert lynx, grow up to 45 pounds and are native to southern and eastern Africa. Slightly smaller servals come from sub-Saharan Africa; both breeds are carnivores.
The Jan. 8 indictment says Casacci, acting as a dealer, sold and transported the 18 cats for use as pets to unnamed individuals during a five-month period in 2018.
Dylewsky said the cats are sold either as pets or to breeders who want to cross-breed them with house cats.
Howard Baskin of the Florida sanctuary Big Cat Rescue pointed, too, to cub-petting stands and roadside zoos, which he said fuel 90% of big-cat breeding.
“The animals just suffer,” Baskin said in a phone interview. “The laws are very weak and the regulation doesn’t really work.”
Dylewsky and Baskin both said wild cats should never be pets.
“It’s definitely not good for the cat,” Dylewsky said. “There’s a misconception perhaps that a wild animal can be domesticated, within a generation, within that animal’s life — that’s certainly not the case.”
They’ll bite, scratch, spray or cover their owner’s house in urine, she said. As a result, they’re often isolated, caged or tied up.
In court Thursday, as quoted by The Buffalo News, Justice Department trial attorney Patrick Duggan said most of the cats in Casacci’s case have since died.
Nicholas Romano, a lawyer for Casacci with the firm Connors LLP, emphasized that there is no allegation of animal abuse.
“A lifelong Buffalonian with a love of animals, Mr. Casacci is the former owner of Exotic Cat Humane Society LLC,” Romano said in an email. “At his arraignment, Mr. Casacci entered a plea of ‘not guilty’ to all charges. He looks forward to examining the alleged evidence from the government, investigating and analyzing the allegations, and contesting each and every charge in court. Most importantly, the charges in the indictment do not allege any mistreatment, abuse, or neglect of any animal.”
Casacci is charged with violations of the Lacey Act, a law from 1900 that prohibits illegal wildlife trafficking, as well as the Animal Welfare Act of 1966.
Six U.S. states — Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Delaware and Oklahoma — do not ban or regulate keeping big cats as pets.
The Animal Welfare Institute is working to pass federal legislation that would prohibit the private ownership of big cats like tigers. Dylewsky said such a law could one day be broadened to cover small cats, like caracals and servals.
“It does seem like common sense, not only for the sake of the animals but also because there have been so many public safety incidents,” she said.
“But there is a lot of resistance, especially in some parts of the country, to the idea that personal property could be regulated.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York did not immediately comment Friday.