however due to my run in with professor paradigm, i've promised to not get any further involved... though if not for my exploring, how would anyone know about the poachers exactly?!? it's totally unfair to kick me out of the hunt for the wrong doers!...
well come to think of it professor paradigm was already here at the tyrrell museum before i set out for my field work, but that's besides the point! how do i know he was here because of it (especially based on what his body guard, lance, told me) in the first place?
so despite the fact i promised not to stick my "snout" where it doesn't belong, i don't see why i can't learn more about the topic of fossil poaching and the supposed "dark side of palaeontology". as i'm academic about it...
the best place to do that (without attracting attention to myself anyways, and thus breaking my promise) was here, in the tyrrell's library.
when i asked the librarian for books about fossil poaching she told me there was no need for many books. as dr. john long of the melbourne museum had written the definitive title on the subject.
now you may recognize dr. long's name here on the tyrannosaur chronicles, as i've referenced his books a couple times now (most notable my summary of new zealand dinosaurs). i have to say he is quickly growing to be one of my favourite writers on the subject of palaeontology!
The Dinosaur Dealers (Mission: To Uncover International Fossil Smuggling) has to be my favourite of Dr. John Long's books so far. not that the topic is particularly pleasant.
this book follows dr. long's (mis)adventures helping an undercover investigation into a stolen set the world's ONLY known stegosaur footprints, from australia. through the course of his journeys, dr. long touches on many of the modern threats to fossils all over the world.
the dinosaur dealers in parts is the story of the hunt for these stolen footprints, and it is crazy to think a palaontologist had this sort of an adventure in real life (outside of a TV show or something). the efforts of dr. long and his associate police sargent steve rodgers at times read more like a super spy tale then a real life search for poached fossils. everything from being pursued by ominous men in suits, a car chase through the streets of a small australian town, to run ins with mobsters and possible terrorists!
i've learned a lot about fossil poaching, smuggling, and collecting issues from this book. i'll cover some of these aspects in more detail later, but here are some of the highlights:
in modern times due to the rise in the price of fossils, there are increasingly more unethical fossil dealers who have no care or concern about the information or scientific importance of fossils and will go to any length (poaching, buying, or even stealing from museums) to acquire specimens if they feel it'll make them a profit.
historically there have been many (and still are) many well meaning and legitimate private fossil collectors who genuinely contributed to scientists and the science of palaeontology, but this new breed of profit only fossil hunter is smearing the name and role of legitimate private collectors, and putting them at odds with the scientific community. which is a shame considering most of the great early fossil explorers of alberta, the sternberg family, were all private hunters by trade (lacking PHDS or formal connections to any institution... rather they'd dig bones independently and selling them to the institutions and/or PHDS).
be careful who you buy fossils from. legitimate dealers who can back up their finds with paper work and knowledge of what they're selling you is fine. however dealers who have great specimens, but nothing to back up their legitimate collection may very well have ties to the black market, organized crime, and even terrorist groups in some cases. by buying from shady dealers you could be helping fund all sorts of uncool things like crimes or even wars!
if you're buying fossils from exotic countries find out the laws about their fossils. for example (as comes up in nearly every chapter of dr. long's book) there is NO such thing as a legal fossil from china. if it came from china it was illegally poached and smuggled out of the country! don't help deplete science's access to important specimens by supporting the theft and removal of countries natural heritage.
just because fossils end up in a museum or collection does not make them safe. increasingly, due to the rise in money value on popular specimens, fossils are being stolen from museums to be sold on the black market. meaning that vital already existing specimens are disappearing from science too!
most interesting of all palaeo-central is mentioned no where in the book! you'd think the organization whose sole purpose is the protection of fossils and the science of palaeontology would have at least its own chapter?!? i know everyone claims their "top" secret, but if that were the case how does everyone i know (plus me!) know about it? interesting in any case that their not in the book. though if you read between the lines you can detect their involvement in a few things, even if it isn't said out so in words.
it was a very compelling, but scary read. i'd recommend it to anyone with questions about the "real life" side of palaeontology. just be prepared for a few moments of feeling sad and helpless (with possible nightmares if you're a vivus-fossil like me!)