Back on May 23, I posted about the story of a skeleton of the Mongolian tyrannosaur Tarbosaurus that was about to go up for auction. The specimen was a nearly complete skeleton, mislabeled “Tyrannosaurus” to increase its market value, and a major auction house was served with a restraining order just after it had auctioned off the specimen for over a million dollars. The paleontological community had been in an uproar for weeks when the sale was first announced, since it was clearly a smuggled and illegally poached specimen from Mongolia, where no fossil can be removed for sale legally. The Mongolian government, U.S. Customs and Homeland Security, and many others were investigating the specimen. Both American and Mongolian paleontologists pointed out that this species is only known from Mongolia, and furthermore, the matrix around the specimen and its distinctive bone texture and color demonstrated it came from the Nemegt Formation, the only Mongolian formation where tarbosaurs have been found.
Shortly after the story appeared, the sale was stopped pending further investigation. Then the wheels of justice began grinding slowly along as investigators dug into the data about the fossil, tracked down the anonymous “paleontologist” who had procured it, and then supplied the information to our legal system. Just before New Year’s Eve, the story broke that the culprit, poacher Eric Prokopi of Gainesville, Florida, had pled guilty. His sentencing is due in May, and he may get up to 17 years in prison for smuggling contraband into the U.S. Continue reading…comments (11)