Police cite 25 pet shops for illegal sale of animals Restricted species turn up in investigation

November 21, 1998|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

Critter collectors beware: That elegantly spotted leopard frog or cute little turtle in the pet shop might not be legal to sell.

After a six-month, 11-county shopping spree in 45 Maryland pet stores that sell reptiles and frogs, state Natural Resources Police have cited 25 shops for improperly selling certain cold-blooded pets.

All but four of the shops were charged with violating licensing regulations designed to prevent profit-seeking collectors from capturing too many of the state's native creatures.

Some pet store owners reacted angrily, accusing Natural

Resources Police of not being able to tell fair game from foul.

Many native amphibians and reptiles have look-alike cousins from other states that are legal to sell without the Maryland license, said Sandra Peters, a saleswoman at Pet Peddlers in Catonsville.

Pet Peddlers was not among the stores cited, but Peters said Natural Resources Police visited the shop.

"There are so many different species that look a lot alike, and the [Department of Natural Resources] people who came here to buy didn't know the difference," she said.

Undercover and uniformed officers also seized three animals that are endangered in Maryland and may not be legally sold. An Annapolis store was selling two bright green barking tree frogs, rare and protected inhabitants of some Eastern Shore marshes, Natural Resources Police said yesterday. A Gaithersburg shop was selling a spiny soft-shelled turtle, which is common in the Ohio River valley but in only a few spots in far Western Maryland.

Another shop offered an alligator; the sale of the toothy reptile has long been illegal in Maryland and elsewhere. A fourth shop was selling tiny red-headed slider turtles, the common aquarium turtles that used to be sold in every dime store but now are restricted because they can carry salmonella bacteria.

No one was arrested, but all 25 shops face maximum fines of $1,500. The license that most of them failed to obtain costs $25, said Maryland Natural Resources Police Sgt. Steve Vaughn.

It requires shop owners to keep records showing the creatures offered for sale were not caught in the wild but were bred in captivity or legally imported from another state, he said.

Many shops are ignoring the licensing requirement, Vaughn said. "We don't know why they didn't have licenses, whether it was out of ignorance or they just didn't want to play by the rules," he said.

Pub Date: 11/21/98

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