A woman in Texas has pleaded guilty after being arrested for smuggling an endangered spider monkey into the United States from Mexico.
The 20-year-old woman, Savannah Nicole Valdez, is from Katy, Texas, according to a press release from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
She was charged with smuggling wildlife without declaring and invoicing it and fleeing from an immigration checkpoint. Federal authorities arrested her in March, and she entered her guilty plea in early November.
Valdez entered the United States at the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville, Texas, on March 21, 2022, according to the ICE press release. Officers noticed a box in her car with holes that she claimed contained beer from Mexico.
They opened the box and discovered a live spider monkey inside, prompting them to order Valdez to undergo a secondary inspection. However, Valdez refused to comply. Instead, she sped off in her car with the monkey, nearly hitting law enforcement officers and other vehicles.
Investigators later found multiple posts online advertising the sale of a spider monkey in the Houston area. The posts listed Valdez’s phone number as the point of contact.
Valdez surrendered to law enforcement on March 28, and the monkey was placed in an animal shelter in Central Florida.
The investigation was conducted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Kingsville Police Department, and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Craig Larrabee, the acting special agent in charge at HSI San Antonio, stated in the press release:
“Smuggling in endangered species for commercial gain is a tragic crime against nature’s precious resources. HSI takes every opportunity to join our federal, private sector, and international partners to share our knowledge, experience, and investigative techniques designed to protect and preserve threatened and endangered species.”
Valdez faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. She will be sentenced on January 25, 2023. She was permitted to remain free on bond pending her sentencing hearing.
According to a Center for Biological Diversity study, the illegal trafficking of wild animals is “out of control” in Mexico.
At the end of last year, four undeclared spider monkeys were discovered at the Progreso International Bridge. The animals were found in a duffle bag on December 30, 2021, according to a January press release from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Agriculture specialists and officers discovered the monkeys during a routine inspection.
The port director of Port of Progreso, Walter Weaver, stated in the press release, “Sometimes these encounters yield hidden exotic animals, such as in this case.”
All four monkeys were returned to Mexico, and the woman was charged with attempted smuggling.