Smuggling Ringleader Pleads Guilty in Federal Court in New Jersey

Bronx, NY – December 20, 2013 –
The Wildlife Conservation Society applauded the prosecution of Zhifei Li, the owner of an antique business in China, for wildlife trafficking crimes. Li pled guilty to leading a worldwide conspiracy in which he and his associates smuggled 30 rhinoceros horns and other illegal products made from rhino horns and elephant ivory worth more than $4.5 million.

The case was the result of a joint effort by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Li pled guilty to 11 counts, including one count of conspiracy to smuggle and violate the Lacey Act; seven counts of smuggling; one count of illegal wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act; and two counts of making false wildlife documents. Li smuggled horns and other products to Hong Kong through an antiques dealership in Long Island City, NY, while overseeing the purchase of horns by an accomplice in Dallas, TX, and personally purchasing horns from undercover FWS agents in Miami Beach, FL. As the leader of the conspiracy, Li financed the purchase of horns, negotiated prices and made purchases, and directed the movement of items out of the United States and into China.

“The successful prosecution of this wildlife trafficker shows how serious the U.S. government is treating the poaching crisis, and we applaud their quick action to bring this criminal to justice,” said John Calvelli, WCS Executive Vice President of Public Affairs. “However, it is also evident that the United States is still a major market for illegal wildlife products. In order to protect elephants on the ground, we must take steps to cut off the market for these products including instituting a moratorium on all ivory sales in the U.S.”

African elephants are being lost at an unprecedented rate and the demand for ivory shows no decline. Approximately 35,000 elephants were killed by poachers last year – some 96 elephants each day. In September, WCS launched its 96 Elephants campaign to amplify and support the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) commitment to save Africa’s elephants through the strategy advocated by WCS conservationists: stopping the killing, stopping the trafficking, and stopping the demand. The WCS campaign focuses on: securing effective U.S. moratorium laws, as called for by seven African nations; bolstering elephant protection by ensuring appropriate resources; and educating the public about the link between ivory consumption and the elephant poaching crisis.

The U.S. government has taken significant action against the illegal wildlife trade this year, beginning with President Obama’s issuance of an Executive Order on wildlife trafficking last July which called for a task force to be chaired by high-ranking officials from the U.S. Departments of Justice, State and the Interior. WCS President and CEO Cristián Samper sits on the Advisory Council to the task force, which is scheduled to issue a national strategy to combat wildlife trafficking in January 2014.

Chip Weiskotten – 202-624-8172;
Stephen Sautner – 718-220-3682;
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)
WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. VISION: WCS envisions a world where wildlife thrives in healthy lands and seas, valued by societies that embrace and benefit from the diversity and integrity of life on earth. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in more than 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit:;;; Follow: @theWCS.

Note to the Media: If you would like to guide your readers or viewers to a Web link where they can make donations in support of helping save wildlife and wild places, please direct them to