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  • Writer's pictureLouisa Willcox

Episode 14 - Sam Jojola

Sam Jojola

Sam Jojola tells the gripping (and dangerous) story of his career as an undercover agent for the US Fish and Wildlife Service -- and his fascinating later career as an actor, which he says shares a lot with undercover work. For two decades, Sam worked on cases of illegal parrot smuggling, wildlife poisoning, and illegal trophy hunting by Safari Club types. His shares his serious concerns about the legal framework for managing grizzlies if federal protections are removed.

Sam says, "state and federal agencies need to work in tandem, both are important. With the limited number of bears in the world, and with six out of eight of the world's bear species imperiled, why take a chance with grizzly bears, that deserve everything we can possibly do for them?"


"[Undercover law enforcement work] is like acting. And you either have that ability or you don’t. Some people have a lot of natural ability to do that, other people have to develop it. It’s a big sales pitch. You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing. But you also have to be meticulous and cover every single minor detail."

"And what I see, like for example in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, it would be a very prestigious hunt to be able to hunt grizzly bears from that ecosystem, because it’s kind of like: "hey this has never happened. They haven’t opened it up before. This is a grizzly from the lower 48." …There are a lot of hunters that would pay a lot of money to hunt a grizzly bear in that ecosystem, and it’s simply because of the recognition. It’s kind of bragging rights."

"That’s the bottom line in wildlife management, wildlife law enforcement: there has to be consequences for illegal actions. And people just do not have the respect for grizzly bears that they deserve to justify any kind of hunt."

"I think it boils down to -- a lot of these people at the top are political appointees, and they’re swayed by outside forces, outside special interest groups. And I say: “a lot of these political appointees, they’re trading in their professional integrity for political expediency.'”

"But also I used to collect intelligence on the people that I would work undercover on, so I’d get to know everything about them before I even met them. That allowed me to mold myself into a person that I knew they would like."

"…the transnational wildlife criminals are on the move globally -- and have been for years now. It’s a lot more sophisticated now. A lot of these transnational wildlife criminal syndicates have found it to be a very lucrative aspect of garnering illegal monies to fund their particular interests."

"State laws are important as well, but they need to work in tandem. With the limited number of bears we have in the world and with six of the most imperiled bear species out of the eight, why take a chance when grizzly bears deserve everything that we can possibly do for them?"


The Lizard King by Bryan Christy - about a fellow USFWS Special Agent Chip Bepler who chased a notorious reptile smuggler in Florida.

Of Parrots and People by Mira Tweti – Chapter 9, entitled "The Invisible Man," is about some of Sam’s covert work on the illegal parrot trade.

Winged Obsession by Jessica Speart - about the world's most notorious and prolific rare butterfly smuggler, caught by a colleague of Sam’s. The author gave Sam an acknowledgement for bringing this case to her attention.

A Hunt for Justice by Lucinda Delaney Schroeder - chronology of friend of Sam’s, a USFWS Special Agent, about an undercover Dall Sheep case she made in Alaska.

Plunder of the Ancients by Lucinda Delaney Schroeder - chronology of the illegal trafficking of Native American artifacts by art dealers in Santa Fe and elsewhere.

Animal Investigators by Laurel A. Neme, PhD - great story about the world's first USFWS Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, OR, with chapters on bear gall bladder investigations.


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