LOS ANGELES (CN) – A California antiques dealer who sold narwhal tusks to an undercover agent has been sentenced to probation and was ordered to perform community service and pay fines, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office said Tuesday.
Described as the “unicorns of the sea” by the World Wildlife Foundation, narwhals resemble whales, live in Arctic waters near Canada and Greenland and sport a protruding, spiraled tusk from their upper lip. Narwhals are considered “near threatened” with a global population of about 50,000.
David Bess, deputy director and chief of the law enforcement division of the California Department Fish and Wildlife, said his agency is “pleased to see the LA City Attorney prosecute ivory cases.”
Los Angeles prosecutors say Anthony Buccola tried to sell a 79-inch and an 87-inch narwhal ivory tusk for $60,000 to an undercover state Fish and Wildlife agent in January 2017.
At the time, the sting was the first in the state to net illegally sold narwhal ivory under a new law banning the importation or sale of ivory and rhinoceros horn. State agents said they became aware Buccola was illegally selling ivory from his antique shop on La Cienega Boulevard in November 2016 and during one visit agents saw two narwhal tusks on display.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office said Buccola and his shop Antonio’s Bella Casa had been found guilty of two criminal counts of selling ivory. Buccola was sentenced to 36 months of probation, 200 hours of community service or 20 days in county jail, and he and his store must each pay a fine of $20,507 including penalty assessments. He will have to forfeit the tusks.
“Selling ivory is not only illegal, it’s immoral,” said LA City Attorney Mike Feuer in a statement. “The ivory trade is abominable, with devastating consequences that imperil threatened species like the narwhal. This prosecution and conviction send the strong message that those who may think of selling ivory tusks will be held accountable.”
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Capt. Patrick Foy said narwhal tusks are rare in California and rare on the black market.
Major metropolitan hubs like Los Angeles or New York attract illegal ivory sales because they’re so far from regions of the world where narwhal tusks are primarily found, said Foy in a phone interview.
“Elephants are the most common tusks found on the black market,” said Foy. “Just because the amount of ivory that’s produced from an elephant is considerable.”
Assembly Bill 96, which banned the sale of ivory or rhinoceros horn in California, was given that number for a specific reason.
“Every day, 96 elephants are poached in Africa,” said Foy. “People should know that every poached animal is going to effect the population as whole. It’s illegal, unethical and wrong.”
A phone call to Buccola’s business for comment was not immediately returned.