Advocates: Exotic animal auctions are incredibly profitable, lack regulation in Arizona

Arizona animal advocates and some industry insiders are calling for more government regulation when it comes to buying and selling exotic animals.
Published: Aug. 16, 2023 at 5:40 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Wally the Wallaby, who had been a family pet, has a new home. Wally made the rounds after Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office released body-camera video of their deputies capturing the exotic animal, with the help of the nonprofit Farm Angels Sanctuary. While animal advocates said wallabies, members of the kangaroo family, don’t make good pets, they are legal to own in Arizona. In this case, the owner told authorities he bought Wally at an exotic animal auction in Texas.

Arizona’s Family Investigates easily found several of these auctions online. Some of them offer to deliver the animals right to you. Even those inside the industry admit it’s incredibly profitable and has little regulation. “It’s way too prevalent,” Linda Searles with the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center said.

From mountain lions to bears, Searles has seen it all. She started the center almost 30 years ago to care for rescued animals. “You can go online and you can buy these animals on an online catalog and have them shipped to your home,” she said.

People buy mountain lion cubs and might not consider how quickly they grow up. Felix, now 3 years old, eats about $500 in meat a week. “A lot of them come into the state without the state even knowing and they’re illegal to have in the state,” she explained.

Back in January, Carlos Castro-Alcaraz, 25, was charged with trying to sell a baby tiger on social media for $25,000. Authorities brought the cub to the center. After pleading guilty last month, Castro-Alcaraz was sentenced to two years probation. “Yeah, it’s difficult to take. I don’t know that someone learns from that,” Searles said.

“There’s very little oversight and there’s (sic) lots of monetary potential for people buying and selling animals. It’s just ripe for nefarious activities,” Brian Gilroy said.

Gilroy owns WildLife Partners, what he calls the largest breeder and broker of exotic wildlife in the US. He also runs “We have 11,000 acres. I have about 50 employees. We’ll do about $70 million in revenue this year,” he said.

All of it is based in Texas, where auctions like this are legal. Their website says bids for a Catalina goat start at $250. They’re asking just over $8000 for a bongo, which is an African antelope. It’s likely a website like this where Wally the Wallaby was sold. “The animals we breed are treated as a tax incentive. So they’re essentially under the tax code treated as business equipment,” Gilroy explained.

He said his customers are mostly ranchers in Texas, and he’s helping them maximize their business options. Arizona’s Family Investigates asked him if there’s a concern that people that don’t have the space or ability to care for these animals could be buying them. “So in addition to the auction site, we also have a consulting company,” Gilroy said.

He said he looks into buyers. While he agrees regulation is needed, he said putting bad actors behind bars wouldn’t necessarily make a difference. Searles disagrees. “I think it would slow it down. It’s not going to stop it,” she said.

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