Animal Law, S.D.N.Y.

Cretaceous Law: Attorneysaurus Rex

The battle between Mongolia and a Texas-based auction house over control of rare Tyrannosaurus bones is getting bigger. I’m telling you that when BBC gets around to making the documentary Walking With Dinosaurs And Their Attorneys, you’re going to want to watch it.

Let me bring you up to speed: Last month, Heritage Auctions tried to auction off a rare Tyrannosaurs bataar skeleton. The animal is believed to have lived in what is now Mongolia between 70 and 100 million years ago. And now its bones that are worth an incalculable amount to science can be sold for around a million dollars to private collectors. The auction has been held up though, thanks to a temporary injunction obtained by representatives of Elbegdorj Tsakhia, the president of Mongolia. They claim the skeleton was illegally taken away from Mongolia and want it returned. In response, the long dead Tyrannosaur said “AAAAHHHNNN,” and wondered why the opposable-thumbed ones insist on trying to own nature.

When we last we checked in, Heritage Auctions said it was working with Mongolian authorities to resolve the issue. But now the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and Homeland Security is involved(!!!).

Man, I wish Michael Crichton was still alive, because Triassic Terrorists is a novel that needs to be written….

We told you in Morning Docket yesterday that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara filed a civil complaint in attempt to return the skeleton to Mongolia. Today’s bone-breaking news is that the Department of Homeland Security might seize the skeleton, today. From the New York Observer (which has been all over this story):

Today, agents from Homeland Security Investigations will seize the skeleton and move it to a government facility in New York where the government holds art and antiquities that are awaiting repatriation, Lou Martinez, a spokesman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit of the Department of Homeland Security, told The Observer.

“It will be protected and at some point in time it will be repatriated to its rightful owners,” he said.

This case could be a big moment for U.S./Mongolia relations:

Puntsag Tsagaan, senior advisor to the president of Mongolia, noted he was pleased that the investigation into the origin of the skeleton was moving forward.

“It will be a nice event in the relations between our two countries and also it will be a signal to the bad guys—looters who illicitly dig and export, sell, trade—it will be a very strong strong message to those illegal traders,” he said.

Instead of another show about charlatans buying “antique” lawn furniture from rednecks, could we please get National Geographic to do a show about the lawyers and potentially Kheshigs who go travel around the world stopping looters? Looters, grave robbers, and others who try to appropriate history’s treasures for personal financial gain are some of the worst people on the planet — can’t we laud the people who are devoted to stopping them?

It’s really nice to see the American government trying to return the bones to their rightful country instead of trying to protect the trumped up property rights of whoever potentially illegally removed the skeleton to auction in the first place.

Just know that this is America’s position going forward. I bet S.D.N.Y. doesn’t want to look too closely at how some of America’s museums and universities have come by some of their ancient treasures.

Making a Federal Case: U.S. Attorney Seeks Seizure and Forfeiture of Mongolian Tyrannosaurus Skeleton [New York Observer]
Breaking: Looted Tyrannosaurus Bataar Will Be Seized by Homeland Security Today [New York Observer]

(hidden for your protection)

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