Thursday, 19 August 2010

Reptilian Beginnings of an Antiquities Case?

1980s Virginia dealer "Universal Select Animals" was engaged in buying, selling and trading in "exotic, rare and protected reptiles", it was a big business well-organized. Back in 1991 an executive of a cosmetic firm in Richmond, Virginia whose firm this appears to have been was convicted of conspiracy with two men in California to import lizards (shingleback skinks and bearded dragon lizards) from Australia. The animals were shut up in mislabelled packages and simply sent through the post, we are not told how many of them survived the trip in the cargo hold of an aeroplane from Australia to Richmond. Now it apparently turns out that 17 years later a guy by the same name and in the same branch of business is named in court records as the man awaiting the arrival of a mummy case he was importing. This too reportedly came in a mislabelled shipment (as "agricultural produce"). Perhaps the earlier conviction, if it is the same man, makes it easier to understand why the buyer of the mummy case did not want to take this matter to court. After all, being the defendent in an alleged smuggling case cannot be good for one's new business specializing "in the breeding and captive propagation of rare and exotic snakes , turtles and lizards".

David Gill has revealed that there may be a dynasty of Virginia collectors of Egyptian antiquities: lizard and mummy importer and now owner of cosmetics firm (Google it) Joseph A. Lewis II, and a Joseph A. Lewis III, who seems also to own (presumably with partner Sofi) a number of items including an ancient Egyptian mummy falcon. Curiouser and curiouser.

I guess if you were a reptile dealer in the US in the 1980s you would have told all your customers that the animals are "not rare" and were all bred in captivity and not taken from the wild, even if in fact you know they were cruelly smuggled out of the source country. Just the same as if you deal in antiquities you will tell your customers that "of course" these ancient objects are "not rare" (or threatened) and came from "old collections".

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