Target: Members of the United States International Trade Commission (USITC)
Goal: Ban the selling and trading of illegally acquired dinosaur fossils within the United States.
Some serious dino-drama took place recently in New York City, pitting an American auction house against the government of Mongolia. What seemed like an ordinary sale is arguably not so innocent. The tension all revolves around the fossilized remains of a Tarbosaurus, a close relative to the much better known Tyrannosaurus, and where exactly the custody of the remains should land.
According to Mongolian president Elbegdorj Tsakhi, the remains in question were attained and transported out of his country illegally. Up to the very last moment, Tsakhi has protested the intended auction. Under Mongolian fossil collection regulations, all fossils excavated in the country must either stay within the country or be moved only with the permission of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. In the case of the Tarbosaurus, neither of these stipulations was met before the skeleton ended up in the United States—and now in the hands of a buyer.
And when it comes to the fossils in question, many paleontologists agree that without a doubt this Tarbosaurus originated in Mongolia. In a letter written to Heritage Auctions (the auctioneer behind the disputed sale), paleontologist Mark Norell of New York’s American Museum of Natural History affirms his belief that the Tarbosaurus did in fact come from Mongolia. The bones, he points out, “clearly were excavated in Mongolia as this is the only locality in the world where the dinosaurs are known…As someone who is intimately familiar with these faunas, these specimens were undoubtedly looted from Mongolia.”
But with the auction having already taken place—a sale which fetched a large $1,052,500—the focus is now set on the United States and its allowing illegally acquired fossils to be bought and sold within the country.
A custody battle took place recently in New York City between an American auction house and the government of Mongolia. Both claim to be the rightful owners of the fossilized remains of a Tarbosaurus, but as the Mongolian government points out—as well as a number of paleontologists—these remains were obtained and transported out of Mongolia illegally. This would, thereby, make this sale illegal.
Yet, regardless of protests, the skeleton was sold for over $1 million.
And as the Mongolian government continues to fight for what is rightfully theirs, America must reevaluate its stance in situations like these. In order to better ensure international integrity, America must not allow the buying and selling of illegally acquired fossilized remains.
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