SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Nearly 200 snakes were seized, and eight individuals were charged in Operation Viper, a multi-state venomous snake trafficking operation.
Several of the snakes are listed in the top 10 deadliest in the world.
The operation began in 2021 by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division (DNR LED) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) after the agencies received intelligence indicating that a black market existed in the Peach State.
“Investigators realized early into the investigation that the black market for venomous reptiles was robust, and subjects identified in the operation were dealing reptiles frequently and in high numbers, often to or from unpermitted individuals,” stated DNR LED.
The snakes seized during Operation Viper consisted of 24 species from seven different regions of the globe. Some of those species include the inland taipan, bushmaster, rhinoceros viper, African bush viper, Gaboon viper, green mamba, eyelash viper, multiple species of spitting cobra, forest cobra, puff adder and saw-scaled vipers.
Officials said for several of the species, no anti-venom for the treatment of snake bites is available in Georgia.
One suspect in Operation Viper, 38-year-old Timothy Gould, of Central City, Pennsylvania, was taken into custody in Georgia on numerous felony and misdemeanor arrest warrants. The other seven suspects were arrested in Florida, DNR LED said.
“Gould is a well-established wildlife transporter and is unpermitted in the state of Georgia and Florida for any captive wildlife, let alone venomous reptiles,” the agency stated. “He advertises his illegal transport services on a popular online marketplace for wildlife dealers.”
Gould had 27 venomous snakes in his possession illegally when he was arrested, officials said.
According to DNR LED, the illegal sale, purchase and transporting of these regulated animals pose a significant public safety threat and threaten the long-term well-being of state wildlife populations.