Last Thursday a scene worthy of Law & Order: Special Wildlife Unit played out in New York City. Two midtown Manhattan jewelers pled guilty to the sale of illegal elephant ivory worth more than $2 million.
The ivory beads, bracelets, elephant figurines, and carved decorative spheres were confiscated from New York Jewelry Mart and Raja Jewels.
“Poachers should not have a market in Manhattan,” said District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance in a press release. “It is unacceptable that tusks from elephants wind up being sold as mass-produced jewelry and unremarkable decorative items in this city.”
The two stores were working together to sell the banned substance: Mukesh Gupta of Raja Jewels acted as a supplier for Johnson Jung-Chien Lu at the Jewelry Mart. The District Attorney’s Office reported that the ivory confiscated from Raja Jewels alone filled more than 70 bankers’ boxes.
Suspicions were raised when an off-duty FWS inspector noticed the merchandise while shopping, according to the New York Times. Retailers can only sell ivory products if they have a license documenting that the ivory was purchased before the 1989 international ban on ivory trade.
DA Vance described the demand for illegal ivory as “an international problem that requires local solutions.” His office partnered with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct the investigation.
2011 was the deadliest year for elephants since 1989. Authorities seized more than 24 tons of ivory from slaughtered African and Asian elephants, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
Thankfully, the penalty fines collected from Gupta, Lu, and the jewelry stores will help prevent the slaughter of more elephants. Totaling $55,000, the fines will be donated to the WCS to further their elephant conservation and anti-poaching programs.
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