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SOS Rhino : In the News : Archived News : December 2000 : Man who didn't declare horns faces prison

Man who didn't declare horns faces prison

By Steve Warmbir
Chicago Sun-Times
December 22, 2000

CHICAGO - When customs agents at O'Hare inspected the bags of big-game hunter Paul Asper, they found quite a menagerie: two horns from a black rhino, the lower jawbone of an Argali sheep -- and 15 Beanie Babies.

Asper, 68, wasn't charged with smuggling the hard-to-find stuffed animals.

But he faces up to 16 months in prison for not declaring the horns and bones of the real endangered animals.

Asper was detained during a 1998 stopover at O'Hare Airport on his return from a four-day hunting trip to the Yubarai mountains in China. A U.S. District Court judge began hearing evidence Thursday at his sentencing hearing.

It's only the latest time the Pennsylvania resident has gotten into trouble for bringing endangered animal remnants into the country.

Asper went from hunting squirrels as a poor boy to bagging big game in Kenya after making his fortune in snowmobile sales.

He once was fined $5,000 for smuggling in a bald eagle he had bagged in British Columbia in the early 1970s. He hid it inside a mountain lion hide, records show.

Asper's disgruntled taxidermist turned him in. He testified that Asper ordered him to make out a false receipt for work on "a large goose." The fine was later tossed out on appeal.

Another time, Asper hid the skins of a Nile crocodile and leopard deep inside the folds of an elephant hide he imported from South Africa in 1976, records show. The fine: $1,200.

The hunter got into his most serious trouble in 1989.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents raided his rural Pennsylvania home and his Fin, Fur and Feather Wildlife Museum.

Asper had set up the museum in a warehouse to showcase his hundreds of animal trophies from across the globe. The museum, now shuttered, once drew thousands of tourists a year.

Asper was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for bringing in such animal trophies as an African wild dog, a black-faced impala and a serow, a type of goat antelope from East Asia.

The hunter pleaded guilty to the latest charges from the O'Hare stop. But his attorneys, Theodore Poulos and Terence Campbell, argue he should get home confinement for the technical violations.

They point out that the hunter owned the rhino horns for more than 20 years, well before the animal was put on the endangered species list. It isn't as if he picked the horns up in China and brought them into the country for the first time, they said.

They dismiss as "pure speculation" that Asper was bringing the 18-inch horns, worth at least $23,000, back from China after failing to sell them there, as prosecutor Lawrence Oliver argues. The horns are ground into a powder and used as medicine in China.

And the defense attorneys say the government's visual identification of the sheep jawbone isn't good enough.

As for the Beanie Babies, they jokingly note they have "scoured the Endangered Species Act" and "can report that nowhere is the 'Beanie Baby' listed an an endangered or protected species."

U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall is expected to decide the hunter's fate early next year.



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