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 New Peninsula Animal Cruelty Investigator Was Undercover Agent ˆExpert In Rare Reptiles

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Mario Lutz
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PostSubject: New Peninsula Animal Cruelty Investigator Was Undercover Agent ˆExpert In Rare Reptiles   Tue 6 Jan - 4:09

By Jessica Bernstein-Wax, Palo Alto Daily News Staff Writer
11/01/2008
Ken McCloud's wife, Rose, used to bang on their mailbox every day before collecting the family's letters.

"She was afraid someone had put a rattlesnake in there trying to get me," McCloud said.

It wasn't just paranoid behavior. In his 30 years busting up wildlife smuggling cartels as an inspector and undercover agent for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Ken McCloud dealt with gun-wielding criminals almost daily and had at least three contracts taken out on his life.

McCloud, an expert in rare reptiles, retired from the federal government in June and took a job with the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA as a major crimes investigator.

"To my knowledge he is the only person with his skill set working with a local humane society anywhere in the world," society president Ken White said. "Sadly, there is no shortage of a local application ... of the international smuggling of animals. We already have a number of significant cases that he is heading for us."

McCloud said he can't provide details on those cases because many of them are covert.

But as a federal agent, he routinely changed his identity and set up phony businesses to infiltrate plant and animal smuggling rings.

>From 1992 to 1996, McCloud sported a long ponytail and dyed beard while investigating reptile smugglers in Madagascar, Germany, Canada and Indonesia. He had an extra phone line installed in his home and took calls in the middle of the night from
smugglers in other continents.

The investigation led to numerous arrests and the felony conviction of a curator at the San Diego Zoo.

For his next big case, Operation Botany, McCloud posed as an importer of rare and endangered plants. He used a fake name, phony IDs and hidden cameras to gather incriminating evidence against international Cycad smugglers. Authorities indicted 12 men in the case, nine of whom were convicted.

"Usually I feel like I'm playing a role like an actor," McCloud said. "Knowing quite a bit about reptiles, I can walk the walk and talk the talk."

McCloud, 54, grew up in Los Altos and earned a bachelor's degree in biology at Foothill College. He loved reptiles from an early age, and as a child in diapers would stand in the backyard calling out to lizards.

In 1977, McCloud joined the Fish & Wildlife Service, where he also studied criminology. He retired after suffering serious injuries to his back while working undercover.

"He's the master, flat out," said Dr. David Martin, an independent consultant in biological law enforcement who has worked closely with McCloud off and on since the late 1980s.

"Ken is a very soft-spoken individual. He's unassuming, which is atypical for law enforcement officers," Martin said. "He doesn't come across as a cop."

Martin noted that while McCloud doesn't have the advanced graduate degrees some researchers possess, "I don't think there's more than maybe 30 people in the world who know more about reptiles and amphibians.

"He blows me away, and that's my field," Martin said.

Wildlife smuggling is an international cash cow rivaling drugs and arms trafficking with estimated profit margins in the billions of dollars, said Sandy Cleva, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's law enforcement division. Estimates have put that number between $10 billion and $20 billion a year globally.

It includes the illegal transportation of live animals and plants, as well as dead animal products such as ivory or skins, across international borders and state lines. Customs agents, trained to look for drugs or fake passports, often don't have the expertise to identify extremely rare and endangered wildlife, which can be as lucrative to traffic as drugs and fetches far milder punishments, according to Martin.

But the consequences for the environment and animals, many of which die in transit, can be disastrous.

"The intrinsic value of wildlife clearly makes these kinds of crimes worse than smuggling guns or drugs," Martin said. "We're going to cause the extinction of species. Now what's that going to do to the ecosystem, to the very environment that we share?"

White said McCloud reports directly to him and is working on humane cases with the society's three cruelty investigators and 15 animal control operators. He added that, while McCloud is unlikely to log international travel, the society has sufficient funds to back his investigations.

"He's going to be a diamond," Martin said. "You're really going to see a difference."

_________________
Attitude, rather than disposition is more definitive of serpent behavior. From the moment they emerge into this world until they complete their life cycle, their attitude is "Don't tread on me. I am well equipped to defend myself, but content to pass through life unnoticed. I mean no harm to anything or anyone that our creator has not provided as my bill of fare; I am self sustaining and I like it that way, please pass me by." - W.E. Haast
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