McALLEN, Texas — Officials arrested a South Texas couple for selling protected wildlife in the first case filed under the Big Cat Act. The arrests follow an investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the assistance of Texas Parks and Wildlife.

On Sept. 27, Rafael Gutierrez-Galvan, 29, and his wife Deyanira Garza, 28, from Alamo, made their initial appearances in federal court.

According to the criminal complaint, Gutierrez-Garza sold a margay cub for $7,500 on Aug. 24 in a local Academy Sports and Outdoors parking lot. On Sept. 26, Gutierrez-Galvan attempted to sell a jaguar cub to the same individual. He allegedly instructed his wife to bring a case of cash from their residence to the location. However, law enforcement officers conducted a traffic stop before she arrived and discovered the money. Neither Gutierrez-Garza nor Garza possesses a license to buy, sell, trade or transport exotic animals such as margays and jaguars. 

The Big Cat Act was enacted in December 2022 and prohibits the importation, transportation, sale and possession of prohibited wildlife species. A jaguar is a prohibited species. Additionally, the Endangered Species Act prohibits the importation, exportation, sale and transportation of threatened and endangered species, such as jaguars.

If convicted, Gutierrez-Galvan and Garza face up to five years in federal prison and a possible $20,000 fine.

The Houston and San Antonio Zoos are temporarily caring for the cat while the investigation continues.

Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas Devin V. Walker is prosecuting the case.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’ largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

A criminal complaint is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.