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International Primate Protection League
SINCE 1973: WORKING TO PROTECT GIBBONS AND ALL LIVING PRIMATES
 

CURIO SHOP OWNER GOES TO PRISON

 

Photo: Bernadette Bresard

On 25 June 1998 William Stevens, owner of the Evolution store at 12 Spring Street, New York, was sentenced to 16 months in federal prison for wildlife smuggling, with a concurrent 12 month sentence for trafficking in Native American remains.

Stevens was assessed a $20,000 fine. He was also ordered to pay $9,000 for the cost of sending the skeletons of Native Americans back to their tribes for burial.

In May 1998 Stevens had received a 90-day sentence for violations of New York state wildlife laws.

An IPPL member had followed the case closely. She had found the store by accident while taking a stroll in downtown New York. Horrified at what she saw, she filed a complaint, tracked the state and federal cases, and attended Stevens' sentencing hearing.

She reported that eight members of the American Indian Alliance were present and were allowed to make a 10-minute presentation during which their spokesperson explained the lack of respect Native Americans face in US society.

When US Fish and Wildlife Service agents executed a search warrant on William Stevens' gruesome New York curio shop on 16 September 1997, they were appalled to learn what he was offering for sale - remains of Native Americans and parts of bodies of endangered animals, including gorillas.

Stevens was charged with multiple violations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act.

Among the items seized were:
* 2 gorilla skulls
* 2 gorilla foot ashtrays
* 1 chimpanzee skeleton
* 1 gibbon arm and hand
* 1 monkey skeleton
* 1 common marmoset
* 1 elephant footstool
* 35 lion claws
* 1 tiger rug
* 1 walrus skull and tusks
* 1 babirusa skull
* various bats, turtles and reptiles
* 100 birdwing butterflies
* 2,841 assorted butterflies
* 5 Native American skulls
* 2 bald eagle skulls

In late 1997 an Italian member of IPPL then living in New York had visited the store and reported that:

In this shop they sell 6 gorilla hands and feet for about $150-200, 2 orangutan hands, and one gibbon hand. I am wondering how is it possible this shame in USA, where there are the biggest environmental agencies, a person can find such sad and hopefully forbidden things?

A human skeleton hung outside the Evolution store's entrance door. The store featured a prominent sign claiming that all its specimens were legally obtained and that no parts from endangered species were being offered for sale. This was not true.

Special Agent Ed Grace of the US Fish and Wildlife Service told the New York Times that Stevens smuggled the remains of endangered and threatened animals into the United States.

He did this by purchasing them overseas, packing them with false labelling, and mailing them to an employee's home address. In one instance he shipped two gorilla skulls and one babirusa skull (the babirusa is an endangered species of wild boar) from Paris in boxes marked "Clothing."

In a 19 April letter to Judge David Trager IPPL Chairwoman Shirley McGreal, writing on behalf of IPPL's worldwide membership, stated:

Many judges, probably including yourself, deal daily with apparently more serious crimes of violence and drug crime.  In this context it is possible that crimes involving greed-driven vandalism of our natural world may seem insignificant. However, trafficking in parts and derivatives of endangered species adds coffin-nails to many species of wildlife already tottering towards extinction. And once a species that has taken millions of years to evolve has gone, it has gone forever.

Therefore IPPL hopes that the defendant will receive a sentence that will both punish him and deter others from conducting similar offenses.

Commenting on the case, Agent Grace stated:

We hope that this sentence sends a message that illegal traffic in Native American remains and in endangered wildlife will not be tolerated...

Illegal wildlife trafficking is one of the major causes of worldwide wildlife loss. In monetary gain, the $2 billion to $3.5 billion a year industry exceeds illegal arms dealing and is surpassed only by drug smuggling.
 
 
 

Arun Rangsi many years ago, when he first arrived at IPPL Meet Arun Rangsi, one of IPPL's Sanctuary Gibbons

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