Normally, stories about the abhorrent trafficking in elephant ivory are reserved for the wire news pages of the paper – a faraway consideration without a local connection.
All that changed last week when The Buffalo News reported on an investigation that resulted in the conviction of a Franklinville antiques dealer for trafficking in prohibited wildlife.
The photos by The News’ John Hickey are startling, and disturbing. Eight huge ivory tusks, some more than 5 feet long, testifying to the slaughter of four elephants.
Mindy Ussrey, elephant manager at the Buffalo Zoo, had a difficult time composing herself in the presence of such a ghastly scene. “Being in the same room as these artifacts, it literally gave me chills,” she said in a story by News staff reporter Phil Fairbanks.
Why is this attention important? The tusks, as Buffalo Zoo President Donna Fernandes said, are an “ugly reminder” that elephants, now slaughtered at a rate of 26,000 each year, could become extinct in our lifetime.
Some work is being done on the ground in Africa and Asia to fight the killings. But another step is to reduce the demand for ivory in the United States, the second-largest market in the world. If efforts to stop the killing are unsuccessful, elephants will some day be seen only as residents of zoos and a few sanctuaries, not as magnificent beasts roaming free.
The plea deal involving the Franklinville man is part of the effort to limit the trade in ivory.
Ferdinand Krizan, the 77-year-old owner of Fred’s Antiques, admitted buying and selling elephant tusks. He could be sent to prison for up to 18 months when he is sentenced in May.
“What is bad news for Mr. Krizan is good news for elephants and all endangered wildlife,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr.
The plea agreement says Krizan bought two elephant tusks at an auction house in Montreal. He somehow smuggled them across the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls and then sold them, with four other tusks, to an individual in Massachusetts for $50,000.
Prosecutors indicated the eight tusks were seized from individuals who bought them from Krizan and remain under investigation. Prosecutors also say Krizan illegally trafficked in other protected wildlife, including a narwhal whale tusk he sold for $8,000.
“As part of his plea deal he also surrendered more than 180 ivory carvings and figurines he sold online and at flea markets,” Fairbanks wrote. Prosecutors estimated the total value of their seizures at $320,000.
Krizan is only a small-time “flea-market” antique dealer who regrets what he did, according to defense attorney Rodney O. Personius.
The magnitude of the haul by federal agents contradicts that portrayal. “He trafficked in a substantial amount of ivory,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango.
The arrest of Krizan may send a message to buyers and other dealers in ivory, thereby reducing some of the illegal trade. The real shame is what will be lost to future generations if the continuing demand for ivory results in the extinction of elephants.