Indictment: American Trafficked Rare Insects

Charges to call for Charles Limmer to turn over his collection of 1K butterflies, moths
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 12, 2023 5:30 PM CDT
At Center of Trafficking Case: Rare Butterflies
A Rajah Brooke's birdwing butterfly, the national butterfly of Malaysia, perches on a flower at Kuala Lumpur's Butterfly Park in Malaysia in 2009.   (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Birdwing butterflies are among the rarest and largest to grace the planet, their 10-inch wingspans flapping through the rainforests of Southeast Asia and Australia. Their sheer size can make them hard to miss. The US Attorney's Office in Brooklyn says Charles Limmer took advantage of their rarity, making tens of thousands of dollars over the past year by illegally trafficking scores of flying insects, including endangered birdwings—whose numbers have fallen because of diminishing habitat and illegal poaching. The six-count indictment against Limmer, 75, accuses him of working with overseas collaborators to smuggle some 1,000 lepidoptera, including some of the most scarce and endangered moths and butterflies in the world, the AP reports.

Federal authorities in New York say the Long Island man smuggled dried specimens of the species, circumventing US laws by labeling shipments as "decorative wall coverings," "origami paper craft," and "wall decorations." The AP's attempts to reach Limmer by phone and email were unsuccessful. Federal law prohibits the commercial export or import of wildlife without permission from the Fish and Wildlife Service. Additional authorization would need to be secured for endangered species, as part of an international partnership to protect wildlife from trafficking. Limmer previously had a federal license to import and export wildlife, but it was suspended in October 2022.

Since then, the indictment alleges, Limmer illegally imported and exported more than $200,000 worth of shipments. An eBay page of a seller going by "limmerleps" shows the account had made more than 4,600 sales on the shopping platform; many of the most recent sales were moths and butterflies. There were two birdwing specimens currently on sale, and two were sold over the past year, according to the website. An Etsy page connected to a seller going by the name "Limmer" had four ads for birdwings still advertised on Wednesday, including a collection of five specimens with an asking price of $133. The indictment seeks to force Limmer to give up his collection of some 1,000 butterflies, moths, and other insects that prosecutors say he illegally procured from overseas.

(More butterflies stories.)

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