Man Pled Guilty To Illegal Sale Of Mounted Leopard

February 1, 2021

By a Biometrica staffer

A man from New York pled guilty to charges of illegally selling a mounted leopard, which is classified as an endangered species, on Jan. 29. He caught the attention of an undercover special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when he posted a photograph on his Instagram account that showed the mounted leopard in the background.

Unknown to him, Michael T. Merisola, 62, of Buffalo had been communicating with an undercover agent on Instagram. After seeing the leopard in Merisola’s photo, the agent approached him with an offer to buy the mounted animal and they discussed the illegality of buying/selling a leopard across state lines, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement on Feb. 1.

Merisola wanted $4,200 for the leopard, and the undercover agent traveled from Ohio to Buffalo to see it and make a down payment. Merisola later accepted the remaining payment and shipped the leopard from New York to Ohio.

He was charged with one count of violating the Endangered Species Act. Passed with bipartisan support in 1973, the Endangered Species Act allows individuals and organizations to petition to have a species listed as endangered or threatened. These listing petitions undergo rigorous scientific evaluation and public review before a final decision is made on whether a species should be protected.

The Act has proven to be extremely successful, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says on its website. “The US Endangered Species Act (ESA) is our nation’s most effective law to protect at-risk species from extinction, with a stellar success rate: 99% of species listed on it have avoided extinction,” a post on the WWF website reads.

Leopards are classified under federal regulations as threatened or endangered wherever they are found.

The ESA also supports the conservation of listed species outside of the US and is the law through which the US enforces the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). CITES is a global agreement between governments to follow rules to monitor, regulate, or ban international trade in species under threat and is a key tool in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade.