A 70-million-year-old dinosaur, who may have been about to launch a huge career as a museum star, has been discovered to have entered the U.S. illegally and under false pretenses. He will be swiftly deported and returned to the hands of his home government in Mongolia.
The dino in question is a nearly complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus bataar, a smaller Asian cousin of the Tyrannosaurus rex. The skeleton was auctioned by the Dallas-based firm Heritage Auctions last month for $1.05 million, but — if paleontologists and prosecutors have their way — will never meet his new owner.
After a paleontologist at New York’s Museum of Natural History got suspicious after spotting the fossil in an auction catalogue, Manhattan U.S. attorney Preet Bharara cracked down, ordering that the specimen be sent back to its home country of Mongolia, where it was apparently first discovered in the Gobi Desert in the 1940s. The New York office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement has filed a civil complaint asking that Heritage Auctions forfeit the skeleton back to the Mongolian government.
This dino was sneaked into the US with false papers and a fake identity, prosecutors charge. It seems that importers lied on nearly every line of his customs forms. The documents stated that Bataar was actually a collection of broken and assorted junk fossil bones worth only $15,000, and that his home country was Great Britain.
But Bataar is being deported not just because he entered the U.S. under false pretenses, but because he is wanted by the Mongolian government. Mongolian law declares all dinosaur fossils to be government property.
Bataar is a natural beauty, needing far less artificial reconstruction than many other major fossil finds, and especially rare because he still has 80 percent of his original claws and 75 percent of his original teeth. The famous T. Rex at the American Museum of Natural History in New York is a fake by comparison: that skeleton is actually built out of the remains of two different dinos.
Bharara has pursued Bataar’s deportation not just for legal reasons, but because he is aware of the special contribution that Bataar makes to his home country, and how much his compatriots miss him. “When [Bataar’s] skeleton was allegedly looted, a piece of the country’s natural history was stolen with it, and we look forward to returning it to its rightful place,” Bharara explained in a Department of Justice press release.