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If there’s one thing Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance won’t tolerate, it’s elephant poaching. Granted, elephants aren’t indigenous to Manhattan, and there aren’t pachyderm poachers running around Central Park, but as we learned this afternoon, the casualties of the elephant poaching problem find their way to the Big Apple — in the form of tacky, ivory nick-knacks that absolutely nobody needs.
Vance held a press conference this afternoon to announce the guilty pleas of two men charged with multiple elephant poaching-related crimes after authorities recovered more than $2 million in illegal ivory they’d been attempting to sell.
The two ivory dealers, 67-year-old Mukesh Gupta and 56-year-old Johnson
Jung-Chien Lu, won’t face any jail time for the roughly 30 elephants
that were killed to obtain the ivory recovered by authorities, but they
will forfeit the pricey ivory to authorities and each pay a $45,000 fine, which
will be donated to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Despite each of the men having been convicted of felonies, Vance says no
jail time is the “appropriate resolution for this case” to avoid a
potentially lengthy trial with no guarantee of a tougher sentence.
Under New York law, it’s illegal to sell things made out of endangered
or threatened species — like the African and Asian elephants
slaughtered for the ivory in their tusks — without a permit
guaranteeing that the killing of the animal occurred before it was added
to the Endangered Species list. Asian elephants were added to the list
in 1976. The African elephant was listed as a threatened species in
According to wildlife officials, 2011 was the worst year in elephant
deaths since the 1989 ivory ban, with an estimated 634 elephants killed
for their tusks.
Between 2002 and 2006, four of every 10 dead elephants were killed by
poachers, according to TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring
organization. In 2011, eight out of every 10 dead elephants were killed
Wildlife Conservation Society Executive Vice President for Conservation
John Robinson says the ivory recovered from Gupta and Lu likely came
from Thailand, China, or Japan. He says most of the carving also is done
in the far East before it is shipped to places like New York City,
where unassuming consumers purchase the blood ivory.
“Look at the size of those tusks — they are small elephants in many of
these cases,” he says while gesturing to dozens of ivory trinkets spread
across a table in front of him.
Vance says there’s a chance other prosecutions of people associated with
the trafficking of the ivory could stem from the convictions of Gupta
and Lu, but would not elaborate.
“Prosecutions don’t occur unless you develop the investigative efforts,”
he says. “We’re developing the investigative efforts. And I think you
can see that we mean business.”