THE BRONX - The illegal wildlife trade is a problem worldwide, but many residents in New York are unaware that it's happening in our backyard.
John Cavelli, of the Wildlife Conservation Society, says wildlife trafficking is now believed to be the fourth largest illegal activity in the world. According to federal officials, it is a multibillion-dollar industry.
"New York is a major hub where a lot of these illegal and legal animal products come through,” says Dr. J. Alan Clark, of the Fordham University Department of Biological Sciences.
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In 2014, a Canadian antiques dealer was busted by federal agents at the Cube Smart Storage facility on East 135th Street. Officials say a man known as Tony Guan tried to buy endangered black rhinoceros horns.
Federal agents say this is nothing new. Edward Grace, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency, says his agency has "documented the use of mini-storage facilities in Chelsea and the Bronx as staging points and stash areas for illegal wildlife products."
Officials say profits that are made by selling illegal animal products are also used to fund terrorist groups and activities.
The Obama administration is hoping to combat the practice with an aggressive new plan. It includes using U.S. intelligence to track and target traffickers and increasing pressure on countries to stop the illegal sale of items like rhino horns and elephant ivory.
Federal officials tell News 12 that storage areas are appealing to wildlife traffickers because they are cheaper to rent than storefront properties. It's also easier to hide illegal contraband and illegal activity.