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New York City: Biggest Ivory Hub In U.S.

<p>Flickr, <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/howard_roark/" style="font-size: 15px;">Fountain_Head</a></p>

In the winter of 2012, a raid by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uncovered a massive cache of ivory ornaments and trinkets at a jewelry store on West 45th Street in Manhattan. The trove filled 72 banker boxes -- in the words of the New York Times, "all that remained of more than 100 elephants that had been poached for their tusks."

This isn't so surprising, it turns out. Elizabeth Bennett, a species conservation scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, says that despite a commercial trade ban in 1989, the market continues, even in the U.S.

"New York City has, by far, the largest market for ivory of any major U.S. city," Dr. Bennett told the Times. "In a 2008 study of the U.S. ivory trade, researchers found 124 outlets that sold more than 11,300 ivory products. This was in Manhattan alone."

The city is a hub for trading of all kinds of wildlife products, from tusk to rhino horn to bear gall bladder. But ivory in particular is difficult to deal with, because some ivory -- that which was harvested before the 1989 ban -- is legal. Owners can get permits for ivory if an appraiser certifies it -- though the process of determining how old a piece is can be expensive and imprecise, says the Times.

Together, the trove uncovered in the 2012 raid amounted was worth more than $2 million, while the owner of the store, Mukesh Gupta, was fined $45,000.