A Canadian antiques dealer was indicted yesterday in Manhattan in a long-running scheme to smuggle endangered species parts, including black rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory, from the U.S. into Canada.
Xiao Ju Guan, also known as Tony Guan, 39, could be looking at 15 years in prison and $200,000 in fines for smuggling and conspiracy charges related to the trade in one of the most critically endangered large mammals on earth.
Guan is accused of purchasing the rhino and other parts from dealers and auction houses in the U.S., and shipping them — with false paperwork — to a location in Washington, with the intention of then smuggling them across the border into Canada. Sale of some endangered species parts is legal in the U.S., if they’re verified antiques, but Guan was allegedly exporting the materials without proper documentation. All in all, Guan is accused of smuggling more than $500,000 worth of animal parts.
The bust was part of Operation Crash, a cooperative effort between the the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Justice that aims to curb a trade that has expanded rapidly in recent years.
“Illegal wildlife trafficking is a multibillion-dollar business that must be stopped,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Hirsch, according to a DOJ press release. “The Justice Department is working vigorously to uphold the laws designed to protect rhinos and elephants and other threatened species from extinction and is working alongside our international partners to bring black-market wildlife traders to justice. We are also very grateful here for the assistance from Canadian authorities.”
Why has the trade in rhino horns been expanding? Frequently for the sake of a hangover cure, according to Leigh Henry, Senior Policy Advisor with the Wildlife Conservation Program at the World Wildlife Fund.
“The key here is that you’re killing a critically endangered animal to cure your hangover,” Leigh says. There are about 4,800 of the animals left in Africa today. “But rhino horn is made out of keratin, the same material as your fingernails,” Henry says. “It’s not very effective.”
Rhino horn has been used for centuries in traditional medicine and, aside from the booming market in hangover cures, rhino horn is also frequently used ornamentally in knife handles and other decorative objects. Henry said the trade has been bolstered by a rise in incomes in emerging economies like China and Vietnam, where much of the demand derives. Authorities say the smuggling of animal parts, as lucrative as it is, is increasingly carried out by sophisticated criminal gangs, and has even been linked to drug trafficking organizations.