Thursday, June 22, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Stephanie Tracy has a range of emotions after 30 snakes and other reptiles valued at $14,000 were recently stolen from her exotic pet store in east Las Vegas.
Her immediate concern wasn’t the loss of revenue for the store, Wild Things, near Sandhill and Flamingo roads. Rather, it was for the reptiles.
“These animals were destined for forever homes,” said Tracy, owner of Wild Things. “I hope he resells them and someone loves them.”
The store’s surveillance cameras early Saturday captured a man removing the lock and handle to the store, and then spending more than 30 minutes breaking the glass of the tanks with a hammer and grabbing the snakes.
Tracy also worried about the snakes being pulled from the broken glass cages. She fears some could have been injured in the process.
The terrarium of an emerald tree boa was the first cage shattered, Tracy said. She said the snake breed is notoriously mean, and the surveillance video shows the suspect jumping back and leaving the snake where it sat.
The other snakes weren’t as lucky.
Tracy, 33, started raising reptiles when she was 18 years old. It quickly turned into a passion that she now shares with her husband, Wild Things co-owner, Jim Tracy.
They have more than 50 years of experience breeding and selling reptiles. They opened the store 10 years ago.
“I like all animals, but reptiles are simple,” Stephanie Tracy said. “They are pretty low maintenance, and they are not needy pets.”
Some of the snakes they’ve bred, others they’ve purchased from local breeders and some they’ve imported or purchased wholesale, she said. At least one of the snakes stolen was a personal pet and another was being sold at the shop on consignment.
The most expensive snakes taken were a $1,650 ball python and two tree pythons priced at $1,500 each, she said. The break-in also caused more than $4,000 in damage. A report was filed with Metro Police, she said.
A worldwide black market has emerged for exotic reptiles and is the focus of a United States Department of Justice investigation, “Operation Chameleon.” The DOJ estimates there’s a $6 billion annual black market in live animals and animal products, including tortoises, turtles, snakes and lizards from Africa, Asia and South America.
The department focuses on the illegal poaching and trading of exotic snakes, some banned because of their highly dangerous bites and others because of laws protecting the snakes in their natural environments.
Yet, since snakes can be high-ticket items, it’s not uncommon for snake thefts to happen.
A 29-year-old man was charged in March with stealing a $700 ball python from an Ohio pet shop. News reports say the man grabbed the snake while the shop was still open.
Two teenagers were arrested in Bend, Ore., after breaking into a reptile store after hours in November 2022 on charges of stealing three snakes, two frogs and a turtle.
A month later, an exotic pet shop was broken into overnight in Florida and nine reptiles were stolen.
Three men in Stockton, Calif., were caught on surveillance footage grabbing three snakes and walking out of a store in May 2022.
Phil Goss, president of United States Association of Reptile Keepers, says such thieves typically steal one or two snakes and try to resell them locally. He said it was rare to see the high quantity of snakes stolen from Wild Things.
He said the exotic snake black market primarily focused on pouched snakes because it was often easy to find stolen snakes due to the unique patterns each snake typically has.
Often, social media exposure with pictures of each snake can help find the stolen pets, he said.
Wild Things has posted a video of the reptiles on its Facebook page at facebook.com/wildthingslv. The page also has images of the man who broke into the store. Stephanie Tracy hopes someone identifies the man and her snakes.
For now, she’s left paying out of pocket to fix items like her front door as she waits for her insurance company to move forward with the claim.
“We don’t make a lot of money in this job,” Tracy said. “I do it because I care about people and my animals. This is a labor of love.”