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Wildlife trafficking: Tennessee man fined $30,000 for dealing polar bear hides, walrus tusks

  • Author: Craig Medred
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published October 29, 2011

A federal judge in Alaska has ordered a scientist from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to pay a $30,000 fine for trafficking in illegal wildlife judge. Judge Ralph R. Beistline, chief of the U.S. District for Alaska, also ordered 43-year-old George Dongdong Jia to spend three years on probation.

Jia, according to a press release from the office of Alaska's U.S. Attorney, was discovered trying to buy rhinoceros, hippopotamus, elephant, tiger, leopard, and polar bear parts on line in 2008. That led U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to begin an investigation. An agent e-mailed Jaia asking if the Tennessean might have any walrus tusks or polar bear hides for sale.

"After some negotiation on price," the press release said, "Jia agreed to sell an un-worked walrus tusk, a polar bear hide and a polar bear skull. The government's investigation revealed that Jia knew the law concerning the illegal sales of wildlife, but completed the sales anyway." The U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act dictates that only Alaska Natives can own un-worked walrus ivory and polar bear skins.

Marine mammals, however, weren't the only animals in which Jia was trafficking, according to the U.S. Attorney's office. He also sold an uncover agent the foot of a black rhinoceros, one of the world's most endangered animals.

Jia was earlier this year indicated on a variety of charges. Not long after, he was outed as a scientist working for the U.S. government. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is among the most famous government-run research facilities on the globe. It was deeply involved in the Manhattan Project, which led to the creation of the first nuclear bomb and the birth of the nuclear age.

U.S. Attorneys began plea negotiations with Jai's attorney not long after the Tennessean's indictment. Out of that came an agreement that Jia would plead to one felony count of violating the Lacey Act, which prohibits interstate trafficking in wildlife, and two Lacey Act misdemeanors. "Pursuant to (the) plea agreement,'' the U.S. Attorney's office reported, "Jia admitted to illegally selling, online, a polar bear hid, black rhinoceros foot and a raw walrus tuck to an undercover agent...As part of the sentence, Jia is required to forfeit all illegally possessed wildlife parts, including parts and skins of tiger, marine mammal parts and horns of rhinoceros."

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com

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