For too long in too many countries (including the U.S.), placing the word "wildlife" in front of the word "crime" had diminished its seriousness. U.S. federal prosecutors wanted Anson's conviction to show the world that wildlife smugglers are criminals. In addition to charging him under the American wildlife-trafficking law known as the Lacey Act, they indicted him for conspiracy, felony smuggling, and money laundering.
For nearly two years Anson fought extradition to the U.S., but eventually he signed plea agreements, admitting to crimes carrying a maximum penalty of 250 years in prison and a $12.5-million fine. On June 7, 2001, U.S. District Judge Martin J. Jenkins sentenced him to 71 months in U.S. federal prison (with credit for 34 months served), fined him $60,000, and banned him from selling animals to anyone in the U.S. for three years after his prison release.
If the judge thought a ban on Anson Wong would work, he was mistaken. Shortly after his arrest, Anson's wife and business partner, Cheah Bing Shee, established a new company, CBS Wildlife, which exported wildlife to the U.S. while Anson was in prison. His main company, Sungai Rusa Wildlife, continued to ship despite the ban. Now that he's free, Anson has launched a new wildlife venture, a zoo that promises to be his most audacious enterprise yet.
It is almost impossible to name an animal or plant species anywhere on the planet that has not been traded—legally or illegally—for its meat, fur, skin, song, or ornamental value, as a pet, or as an ingredient in perfume or medicine. Every year China, the U.S., Europe, and Japan purchase billions of dollars' worth of wildlife from biologically rich parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia, emptying out parks and plundering wildlands, often newly accessible along logging roads.
The path to market typically begins when poor hunters or farmers catch animals for local traders, who pass them up the supply chain, though some traffickers—Anson Wong among them—have even dispatched their own poachers, posing as tourists. In Asia, wildlife ends up on the banquet table or in medicine shops; in Western countries, in the living rooms of exotic-animal fanciers. The economics are as easy to understand as an art auction: the rarer the item, the higher the price. Around the globe, nature is dying, and the prices of her rarest works are going up.