For Immediate Release
November 17, 1999

Contact: Tom MacKenzie 404/679-7291

North Carolina Man Pleads Guilty to Trafficking Venus Flytraps

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo by J.D. Pittillo

Ted Allan Minton of Thurman, North Carolina, pleaded guilty on November 2, in a Baltimore Federal Court to conspiracy in the trafficking of carnivorous plants. He sold Venus flytraps that had been illegally taken from the wild in eastern North Carolina to international plant dealers in Holland. The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula - - Ellis), endemic to the coastal bogs of North and South Carolina, is protected as a species of special concern by the State of North Carolina. In addition, the flytrap is internationally protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) treaty. The United States is one of 146 nations party to CITES, which monitors global trade in wild animals and plants and the products that contain these species.

"People are fascinated by this unusual plant, which has been popularized in literature and cinema," said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "A victim of its own popularity, the Venus flytrap is prized by collectors worldwide. Consumer demand fuels the marketplace and contributes to the depletion of wild populations."

"U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agents from Maryland, North Carolina, and Georgia, working in cooperation with the U.S. Customs Service in Maryland, tracked the illegal trade," continued Hamilton. "They eventually unraveled this case, which also involves two men from Holland."

A plant nursery owner, Minton, age 50, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act by trafficking the flytraps. Under the provisions of CITES, any Venus flytrap export requires a Federal permit issued in advance by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. CITES export permits describe the wildlife species or products contained in a shipment and declare that it has not contributed to the decline of that species. In addition, the Lacey Act makes it illegal to possess or transport fish, wildlife, or plants by interstate or foreign commerce in violation of State or Federal law. Moreover, any plant to be exported from the United States must be accompanied by a U.S. Department of Agriculture phytosanitary certificate ensuring the plants' roots are clean, with no diseases.

In January 1996, Hendrikus Lommerse from Holland took about 9,000 flytraps that had been taken from the wild to Minton's nursery. Minton gave Lommerse a false U.S. Department of Agriculture certificate stating that the shipment contained Christmas ferns.

This certificate was used by Lommerse to conceal the unlawful export of the Venus flytraps from the Baltimore- Washington International Airport (BWI) to a Dutch nursery owner, Gerard Hermans.

Lommerse was arrested at BWI by Service and Customs law enforcement officers after he checked a suitcase found to contain flytraps rather than the Christmas ferns described on his false Department of Agriculture certificate. Also, he did not have a CITES export permit. Analysis of the soil contained in the bags holding the Venus flytraps confirmed that the flytraps had been illegally taken from the wild.

Nearly a year after this first violation, in December 1996, Minton attempted to send a separate shipment of 5,000 unlawfully collected Venus flytraps through Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport to Hermans in Holland. He provided false permits and certifications to the U.S. Department of Agriculture stating that the shipment contained 2,500 nursery-raised Venus flytraps. Again, a soil analysis revealed that these plants had been taken from the wild. Minton did not have a CITES export permit. Service law enforcement officers investigating this case were able to connect Minton to the earlier attempted illegal export in Baltimore.

Minton is scheduled to be sentenced on January 7, 2000. The maximum penalty for a felony violation of the Lacey Act is 5 years incarceration and/or a fine of $250,000. Lommerse had already pled guilty to a Federal Lacey Act felony and has been sentenced. He received jail time served, a $2,000 fine, and 18 months of Federal probation, a condition of which was cooperation with the U.S. government.

Wild Venus flytraps, small perennials, are carnivorous plants that catch insects and small animals with their trap-like leaves. They are found only in the sandy, wet soil of coastal North and South Carolina. Wild populations of this unique plant are declining due to habitat loss and collecting. Botanical gardens around the world cultivate Venus flytraps, which are sold as novelty items in many countries, including the United States, Germany, and Holland.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state wildlife agencies.

Release #: R99-087


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