Pianomaker Fined $35,000 for Smuggling Endangered Elephant Ivory


Image: FWS

The CEO of an Atlanta piano company has been fined $35,000 after pleading guilty to importing piano keys made from real ivory. The shipment of pianos imported from Africa was intercepted by US Fish & Wildlife agents two years ago, after being notified by a fishy documentation request made to an international endangered species protection group in Switzerland. The story reveals two things -- that the clumsy bureaucratic process we rely upon to catch importers of such stuff seems pretty easy to circumnavigate, and that, yes, evidently there are still rich folks prowling the black market for pianos made with real ivory.Here's the Atlanta Business Chronicle:

In September 2009, U.S. Fish and Wildlife special agents received information from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Secretariat's office in Geneva, Switzerland that a representative of A-440 Pianos made an inquiry about documentation requirements. Within a few weeks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists inspected a piano shipment imported by A-440 Pianos.

Investigators noted two piano keyboards were in the bottom of a crate under furniture and personal effects. The individual keys were located in a crate under a tray of marking pens. The keyboards and individual keys were positively identified to be covered with elephant ivory.

Now, it seems to me -- and this is largely speculation -- that if the piano company hadn't called up CITES and given them a reason to be suspicious, there would be a grand piano with keys made out of elephant ivory in the parlor of some tobacco company exec's mansion right now. It makes you wonder how large this black market is, and how effective federal agents, clearly strapped with other important tasks, possibly are at nabbing stuff like this.

And whenever news like this breaks, it always takes me a bit by surprise: It seems so anachronistic, so old school, that there would still be stuffy rich folks out there who demand that their pianos be made with real endangered animal parts. Then again, people still pay to go on those gruesome big game safaris, eat endangered whale meat at high-class restaurants, and wear fur, so I'm not really sure what I'm so surprised about.

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