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San Jose Woman Sentenced After State Officials Find Illegal Stuffed Wildlife In Her Apartment

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) – A San Jose woman has been fined $3,600 and sentenced to 300 hours of community service and three years of probation, after an international investigation uncovered dozens of illegal stuffed wildlife in her apartment.

The investigation began in June 2014, when state officials were tipped off by a French wildlife officer about the unlawful sale of a barn owl to a California buyer on eBay. The barn owl is a protected species in France, and officials were able to eventually trace the eBay account back to 42-year-old Dora Martha Jimenez Zepeda of San Jose.

When state authorities searched Zepeda's one-bedroom apartment, they found everything from a stuffed sea turtle to a full-sized African lion. All told, California Department of Fish and Wildlife officers, with the help of officers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found more than 50 stuffed and mounted animals.

Zepeda told KPIX 5 that she had no idea her love of animals and fascination with exotic taxidermy from around the world would lead her afoul of the law.

"They told me, the [officers], it's illegal to buy in California, but later," Zepeda said. "First time, they never told me."

San Jose Taxidermy - Stuffed Lion
Stuffed lion found in Dora Martha Jimenez Zepeda's San Jose apartment. (CBS)

"A very significant and extensive investigation on this," said Don Kelly with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.  He said some of the species found in the apartment were either threatened or endangered. "You do get these people who are collectors of these types of critters. Some people have some amazing collections, albeit illegal."

Zepeda pleaded no contest to one count of violating Fish and Game Code, section 3503.5, the unlawful possession of birds of prey. She also forfeited several taxidermied animals that are illegal to possess in California. She was allowed to keep other mounts not prohibited by state or federal law.

Zepeda said she purchased most of her taxidermy from eBay and denies having killed any of the wildlife herself.

Kelly said the illegal commercialization of wildlife in the state of California from a monetary standpoint is second only to the illegal drug sales that occur in the state.

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