Press Release: Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Director Speaks on Global Crisis of Wildlife Trafficking


White rhino (Ceratotherium simum), Pilanesberg Game Reserve, North West Province, South Africa

Dr. Eric Dorfman speaks on how museums can counteract this illegal trade.

PITTSBURGH – Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Director Eric Dorfman is leading an international call for natural history museums to do their part to stop the global crisis of wildlife trafficking.

Wildlife trafficking is one of the top international illegal trade practices surpassed only by narcotics, counterfeiting, and human trafficking. It has been recognized as a growing source of funding for terrorist’s groups, and has resulted in increased poaching activities as well as thefts from museums and zoos.

“Illicit wildlife trafficking poses ethical and logistical problems for natural history museums today,” Dr. Dorfman said. ”However, we can work together to be a force in counteracting this crisis.”

Dr. Dorfman spoke on the subject at the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums conference in Puebla, Mexico on October 10. This coincided with the International Council of Museums releasing a white paper, Natural History Museums and Wildlife Trafficking: A Framework for Global Action, on October 4 which outlines steps that natural history museums can take to curb trafficking.

The paper was published by the International Council of Museums Committee for Museums and Collections of Natural History Wildlife Trafficking Working Group, which Dorfman chairs. It outlines how natural history museums are uniquely positioned to stop wildlife trafficking through communication, partnerships, improved documentation and identification, and public awareness.

Experts estimate that wildlife trafficking is estimated to be worth at least $19 billion each year. The demand for wildlife items has greatly damaged and depleted natural resources in affected areas. The black market is turning more regularly to museum collections. A rhinoceros horn, valued at €500,000, was stolen from the National Museum Archive at Balheary Road in Swords County Dublin in April 2013, and 17 rare monkeys were stolen from the Beauval Zoo in France last year.

Dr. Dorfman has been the president of the ICOM Committee for Museums and Collections of Natural History (ICOM NATHIST) since 2013. He is a member of the ICOM Ethics Committee, and in 2013 published the ICOM Code of Ethics for Natural History Museums. He is also a registered ICOM mediator and is a member of ICOM’s Museum Definition Working Group. His PhD, from The University of Sydney, concerned scale-dependent resource use of cormorants in central and eastern Australia. Before this, he worked on the behavioral ecology porpoise in Monterey Bay, California. Dorfman publishes on natural history, museum operations, public programming, and the ecology of wetland birds. He is currently editing a book entitled The Future of Natural History Museums, due for publication in 2017.


Carnegie Museum of Natural History, one of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, is among the top natural history museums in the country. It maintains, preserves, and interprets an extraordinary collection of 22 million objects and scientific specimens used to broaden understanding of evolution, conservation, and biodiversity. Carnegie Museum of Natural History generates new scientific knowledge, advances science literacy, and inspires visitors of all ages to become passionate about science, nature, and world cultures. More information is available by calling 412.622.3131 or by visiting the website,


New Sniffer Dogs detect illegal ivory, lead to arrest in Tanzania


Jenny, one of the dogs to bring down the elephants. Photo: Julie Larsen Maher

Thanks to the Wildlife Conservation Society, Tanzanian National Parks (TANAPA) are now using dogs to detect illicit ivory. Jenny, a Belgian Malinois dog, and Dexter, an English springer spaniel, recently helped seize four elephant tusks in a village outside Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park, leading to the arrest of an alleged poacher. The dogs are members of a new team of specially trained dogs that undergo a rigorous two-year training before being deployed.

Following a tipoff, Jenny and her handler examined a house in the village during a late night search, and successfully detected four concealed elephant tusks hidden in plastic under a parked vehicle.

The tusks are small, TANAPA officials report, and have presumably come from “young elephants that had not even reached middle age”. The ivory bust led to the arrest of one man, who is now reportedly assisting the Tanzanian authorities with their investigation.

“This ivory bust shows what a powerful tool the detection dog unit is,” WCS Project Director Aaron Nicholas said in a statement. “It adds to the government’s strategy to curb elephant poaching in Tanzania. Well done to the TANAPA handlers and staff and our four legged front-line friends.”

5-detection-dogs-julielarsenmahercwcs Tanzania is an elephant poaching hot spot. Elephant numbers in the country have declined by more than 60 percent between 2009 and 2014, according to a recent survey by the Tanzanian government.

The tusks have come presumably from “young elephants that had not even reached middle age”, experts say.

Read more at this link and this one.  Photos by Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society.

New Report Reveals Disturbing Trends in Tiger Trafficking


Bengal Tiger in Kamataka, India. Photo: Paul Mannix

Johannesburg, South Africa, 29th September 2016—a new report from TRAFFIC and WWF found no evidence of any diminution in tiger trafficking across Asia. Seized body parts equate to at least 1755 tigers confiscated between 2000 and 2015—an average of more than two animals per week.

Published ahead of a critical debate on the illegal tiger trade at the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild fauna and flora (CITES), “Reduced to Skin and Bones Re-examined” found there had been 801 recorded seizures of tigers and tiger products across Asia since 2000.

With only an estimated 3,900 tigers left in the wild, evidence points to a marked increase in tiger farming. See the full press release from TRAFFIC at this link.

Natural history museums can have a crucial role in raising public awareness of illegal trade and unethical captive breading programs, especially in countries where these practices occur.




Wildlife Witness App Helps Stop Trafficking

Wildlfie Witness App.PNGIf you’re traveling to Southeast Asia, there is an app that will allow you to identify and report wildlife that is being illegally traded.

In 2014 Sydney’s Taronga Zoo partnered with TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, to create Wildlife Witness, the first global community action smartphone app in the fight against illegal wildlife trade. The app allows tourists and locals to easily report wildlife trade by taking a photo, pinning the exact location of an incident and sending these important details to TRAFFIC.

Reports by app users will be analyzed by a Wildlife Crime Data Analyst and over time, the information will help build data and enrich understanding of illegal wildlife trade across the region, help prioritize response action and highlight areas in need of increased enforcement resources.

Wildlife Witness will also feature information on species threatened by trade, how they are often traded, as well as tips for reporting wildlife crime safely. Its current focus is the South-East Asian region which serves as source, consumer and transit hub in both the legal and illegal trade of wildlife. It is hoped app users will include the growing number of tourists to Southeast Asia as well as the region’s own smartphone users and over time will expand on what is known about illegal trade here.

The app was developed with funds from the Vodafone Foundation’s App Aid competition. It has been developed for both iPhone and Android devices. Wildlife Witness is free to download from the App Store. or for Android

Natural History museums have an important opportunity to promote this this app to their visitors and researchers who are visiting the region. Read more about the app and the initiative at this link.

ICOM NATHIST Supports World Environment Day


ICOM NATHIST has a relationship with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), providing mutual support to programs with common purpose. One of the most important programs is World Environment Day (WED) every 5th of June.

World Environment Day (WED) is the United Nations’ principal vehicle for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment. Over the years it has grown to be a broad, global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated by stakeholders in over 100 countries. It also serves as the ‘people’s day’ for doing something positive for the environment, galvanizing individual actions into a collective power that generates an exponential positive impact on the planet.

This year, ICOM NATHIST is especially supportive, as its focus is taking action against illegal wildlife trafficking, in recent years one of the key strategic focuses of ICOM NATHIST.


WED aims to inspire more people around the world than ever before to take action to prevent the growing strain on planet Earth’s natural systems from reaching breaking point. This year’s theme is the fight against the illegal trade in wildlife, which erodes our precious biodiversity and threatens the survival of awesome species such as elephants, rhinos and tigers as well as many others that are less celebrated. It also undermines our economies, communities and security.


The WED Website provides ideas for getting involved raising awareness of WED and wildlife trafficking at this link. If you or your institution does an activity, let us know and we will promote it here.

Global Shipping Industry to Tackle Wildlife Trafficking

Sustainable shippingA declaration to tackle global wildlife trafficking routes has been signed by the Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) – a coalition of companies from across the global shipping industry.

The declaration was unveiled by The Duke of Cambridge, President of United for Wildlife, and is the culmination of 12 months of work to develop a plan, led by the transport sector, to crack down on illegal wildlife trafficking routes. The declaration states that shipping must earn a reputation for being a trusted and responsible partner in the communities that it touches around the world.

The Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) is an ambitious coalition of shipping leaders from around the world that is taking practical steps to tackle some of the sector’s greatest opportunities and challenges. The group is working to achieve a vision of an industry in which sustainability equals success.

This initiative represents the first time the shipping industry has joined forces on such a cooperative global scale to tackle big sustainability issues. The ultimate goal is to show that collaborative action is possible, and to mobilize support across the industry, demonstrating that shipping can contribute to – and thrive in – a sustainable future.


Signing the Agreement. Source: SSI 2016

The United for Wildlife Transport Taskforce Buckingham Palace Declaration is a landmark agreement, outlining 11 commitments aiming to help support the private sector in fighting the illegal wildlife trade. These include: increasing passenger, customer, client, and staff awareness about the nature, scale, and consequences of illegal wildlife trade, promoting the declaration’s commitments across the entire transport sector , improving the training of staff within the transport sector to enable them to detect, identify and report suspected illegal wildlife trade, and acknowledge staff who champion this cause, and notifying relevant law enforcement authorities of cargoes suspected of containing illegal wildlife.

Read more about the declaration here.


Accused Cleveland museum gem thief appears in court

Hans WrageCLEVELAND, Ohio —  December 14, 2015. The man arrested in connection with a gem theft at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History was issued $5,000 bond in court. Hans Wrage, 36, pleaded not guilty to his charges, despite the fact that he was caught on security camera at the time of the event. Wrage was arrested after a warrant was issued for his arrest Friday.

Police were called to the museum earlier this month after staff members found a number of gems missing from the gem room. The seven stolen sapphires are valued at roughly $81,000.

Wrage works at the physics department at John Carroll University as a Teaching & Research Support Technician. He received his B.A. in physics at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. His upper-level research project used time-resolved spectroscopy to study carrier dynamics in semiconductors. He went on to work at the University of St. Thomas also located in Minnesota where he was the laboratory manager for the physics department. Similar to his current position at JCU, he managed department facilities including the machine shop and computers, and built new classroom apparatuses and demonstrations. He received his M.S. at Creighton University in Omaha, NE where his thesis was on measuring the x-ray fluorescence cross-sections of select rare earth elements.

The university placed him on administrative leave pending the school’s investigation of the allegations. To see more related to this incident follow this link (Fox 8, Cleveland).


United States returns ancient dinosaur fossil, ancient cultural artifacts to China

US-returns-ancient-antiquities-to-China5WASHINGTON – On December 10, 2015 a microraptor fossil estimated to be approximately 120 million years old was returned to the government of China Thursday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale, China’s Deputy Director General of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage Gu Yucai and Department of State Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan participated in the repatriation ceremony. In addition to the microraptor fossil, ICE also returned jade disks, bronze trays and other items, dating back as far as 1600 BCE to the Chinese government.

The artifacts were recovered by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) offices in New York, Cleveland and Miami. The fossil was falsely manifested as a “craft rock” and later as a “fossil replica” to conceal the shipment’s true contents.

eric-prokopiHSI Cleveland and HSI New York worked jointly to investigate Eric Prokopi, 38, of Florida, who later pleaded guilty to engaging in a scheme to illegally import dinosaur fossils. According to court documents and statements made in Manhattan federal court, Prokopi owned and ran a business out of his Florida home and is a self-described commercial paleontologist. Prokopi was fined, served time in jail and was subject to 15 months supervisory release.

As part of his plea agreement, Prokopi admitted to the forfeiture of a nearly complete Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton, which was looted from Mongolia and sold at auction in Manhattan for over $1 million. The specimen was the subject of a separate pending civil forfeiture action. Prokopi also agreed to forfeit a second nearly complete Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton, a Saurolophus skeleton, and an Oviraptor skeleton, all of which he possessed and were recently recovered by the government. In addition, Prokopi will forfeit his interest in a third Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton believed to be located in Great Britain. All of the fossils originated in Mongolia. The skeleton of a Chinese flying dinosaur that Prokopi illegally imported has already been administratively forfeited.

“The repatriation of these items is a great success for the United States and for the Chinese government and its people,” said Assistant Secretary Evan Ryan. “Cultural heritage endures as a reminder of the contributions and historical experiences of humanity, and we must continue to work together on many fronts to safeguard it.”

Agreement SigningImmediately following the repatriation ceremony, Dr. Eric Dorfman, Director of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and President of ICOM NATHIST joined Mr. Zhang Zhijun, Deputy Chief of the Department of Stratigraphy and Paleontology for the Geological Museum of China, in signing an agreement formalizing a plan to lend the fossil to the Carnegie Museum for a future exhibition at a date to be determined.

Since 2007, HSI has repatriated more than 8,000 items to more than 30 countries.

2015 Meeting Report

22330959856_0a21159efc_cThe second annual meeting of the ICOM NATHIST Wildlife Trafficking Working Group was hosted by the National Taiwan Museum on the 18th of October  2015, in association with the ICOM NATHIST annual conference. This meeting was an important advance on work to date.

At the meeting, we were very fortunate to have delegates from institutions including TRAFFIC; CITES; the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums; Carnegie Museum of Natural History; Denver Museum of Nature and Science; Taipei Zoo; the Natural History Museum of the University of São Paulo and National Taiwan Museum. The geographic mix was different from our previous meeting in Zagreb, affording the Working Group an opportunity to hear presentations that detailed important experiences from the Asian region.

22330942366_98aac838ff_cThe principal work of this meeting was to finish the ICOM NATHIST White Paper on Natural History Museums and Wildlife Trafficking. This was agreed to at the 2014 meeting as a key deliverable of the working group, and was ratified at the 2015 annual general meeting. This document is currently being laid out for printing. An electronic version will be published on the ICOM NATHIST Wildlife Trafficking Working Group website and print copies disseminated globally early in 2016.

22169255438_99e4b75464_cWe are very grateful to our hosts and participants for this meeting. Through this work, we hope to assist in addressing one of the world’s most intractable environmental problems.

Fossils stolen from Devon cave site

elephanttoothDEVON, UK – September 17, 2015 A cave site in the southwest of England (protected by steel doors) has recently been broken into and some material broken out of the fossil bed and stolen. Alan Finch, secretary at the William Pengelly Cave Studies Trust, announced that Joint Mitnor Cave and Reeds Cave were broken into lately and certain artifacts such as an iconic elephant tooth (pictured) were stolen.

The cave is the site of the richest deposit of mammalian remains of the Last Interglacial age (probably about l00,000 years old) yet found in a British cave. These animals had apparently fallen down a shaft in the roof of the cave, since blocked, and their remains were buried below in a talus cone of earth and stones.

Considerable damage was caused to the surrounding area during the break-in. The Police have been informed and the Devon Wildlife Trust are working with the organization to improve site security.

The trust is working with has asked the caving community to keep an ear to the ground and see if any strange objects pop up for sale.

Their website informs readers that: Just inside the entrance is a fair sized chamber to the left of which a talus cone of earth, boulders and bones covered by stalagmite slopes steeply upwards to form a rift. This talus once extended across the floor of the chamber but has since been excavated to reveal over 4000 bones of animals such as hippopotamus, bison, hyaena, and straight-tusked elephants dated to the lpswichian stage of the Pleistocene period.

While this interesting and relevant information highlights the importance of the site to science and tourism, it’s also an unfortunate reality that this level of detail may have aided the culprits. It points to an increasing level of security required for natural objects and calls into question how specific we should make information on our websites.