ERIK ROBINSON, Columbian staff writer
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
PORTLAND — Elephant ears, the kind made with flour, sugar and butter, go for $3.75 at the Oregon Zoo.
Actual elephant ears, the kind formerly attached to African elephants, sell for hundreds of dollars on the Internet. On Monday, federal authorities displayed a pair of real elephant ears, along with other endangered-animal parts seized in a series of stings last year.
U.S. Attorney Karin Immergut joined zoo director Tony Vecchio and Fish & Wildlife Service regional director Ren Lohoefener at the zoo in announcing the creation of an Endangered Species Justice Fund. The fund will start with a $60,000 civil penalty from a case involving the prosecution of 13 people across six states for selling live ocelots.
Although the animal parts on display were undeniably exotic, the elephant ears had a worn look.
“This one here had been used as a mat,” said Robert Romero, a law enforcement agent for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Portland.
It is illegal to possess an endangered species in the United States.
Federal authorities displayed several items confiscated from other cases in Oregon, part of a nationwide racket in illicit trade of endangered animals that’s worth more than $10 million per year.
Besides the elephant ears, the illegal haul included an ocelot-skin hat and matching coat; a stuffed green turtle; a spectacles case made from the shell of a Hawksbill sea turtle; an ornamental fan made of a hawk wing and talon; a tiger’s pelt; and a leopard’s pelt.
Investigators said they acquired a rhinoceros horn selling for $40 an ounce on the black market — after being ground into a powder to be used medicinally.
The fund will become part of the zoo’s Future for Wildlife program, which contributes to international animal conservation efforts. It also helps reintroduce endangered wildlife in the Pacific Northwest, including Oregon silverspot butterflies, California condors and western pond turtles in the Columbia River Gorge.
“There’s a lot of work to be done, unfortunately,” Vecchio said.
Immergut said the new fund is the latest of several created in recent years to funnel civil fines for environmental crimes into programs intended to offset the damage.
A total of $2.6 million has been earmarked to promote environmental stewardship in Oregon and Southwest Washington, Immergut said, largely from fines paid by shipping firms prosecuted for dumping waste oil overboard.
Vecchio, during a press conference just outside the zoo’s ocelot exhibit, acknowledged the lure of the illicit pelts on display.
“I think they were a lot more beautiful when they were on the animals,” he said.