November 30, 2008

Poachers find thriving market for fossils

A dinosaur skeleton that vanished from Mongolia likely was sold on the black market, says a fossil hunter from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

The broken skeleton, found in the Gobi desert, was to be reassembled as a centerpiece for the Museum, said Michael Ryan, the Museum's head of vertebrate paleontology.

It would have been the most significant chunk of Tarbosaurus in North America. It's sort of the one that got away, Ryan told The Cleveland Plain Dealer in a story published Sunday.

Ryan found the pile of bones two years ago, recognizing them as Tarbosaurus bataar, an Asian relative of Tyrannosaurus rex. When he returned to excavate them, not even a shard of bone remained.

The 65-million-year-old bones likely were sold on the international black market, where there is a thriving fossil trade, or they may have been pulverized for use in traditional Asian medicines, Ryan said.