British Columbia

Smuggling dinosaur fossils into U.S. costs B.C. man $25,000 US

A U.S. judge has fined a B.C. man $25,000 after undercover agents caught him trying to sell dinosaur fossils smuggled out of China at a trade show in Tucson, Ariz.

Undercover agents caught Jun Yang selling ancient Chinese fossils at Arizona trade show

Jun Yang was selling this Psittacosaurus skelton fossil for $15,000 US at a Tucson gem and mineral show, where he was busted for smuggling. (U.S. Immigration and Customs)

An Arizona judge has fined a B.C. man $25,000 after undercover agents caught him at a Tucson trade show trying to sell dinosaur fossils smuggled out of China.

According to U.S. court records, Jun Yang was targeted at the Globe-X Gem and Mineral Show in February 2015 after he was observed at a display table advertising a Psittacosaurus fossil and fossilized Hadrosaurus eggs.

He told agents the fossils were between 100 and 130 million years old and had been "dug up" in China.

"Mr. Yang stated that he illegally removed the fossils from China, put the fossils in containers with stone carvings, shipped them to the United States and didn't disclose that fossils were in the containers," according to the original complaint.

'Shameful' cultural plunder

Yang, 37, is president of Arctic Products, an import company that appears to be based out of a house in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond. He pleaded guilty last summer to smuggling and was sentenced last week.

Jun Yang was offering these Hadrosaurus egg fossils for $450 US a piece, although a discount was available for someone buying 13. (U.S. Immigration and Customs.)

"It's shameful that someone would plunder specimens like these from another nation simply to pleasure hobbyists and line their own pockets," the agent in charge of the case for Homeland Security, Matthew C. Allen, said in a statement.

"These prehistoric treasures rightfully belong to the Chinese people."

The Tucson gem show is a magnet for dinosaur enthusiasts. It's also frequented by U.S. Customs and Immigration agents seeking to crack down on the global underground fossil market.

Also known as a parrot lizard, the Psittacosaurus was a relatively small dinosaur which roamed the plains of Mongolia, China and Siberia over 100 million years ago. Adults reached weights of up to 20 kg.

The much larger Hadrosaurus, by comparison, reached heights of up to three metres. The vegetarian creature was the first complete dinosaur skeleton to be unearthed. It's also New Jersey's official state dinosaur.

Discounted price for eggs

According to the original complaint, Yang was asking $15,000 US for the Psittacosaurus skeleton fossil and $450 US for each Hadrosaurus egg fossil.

During the course of an initial conversation, agents asked Yang about the legality of importing dinosaur fossils. He told them it was a violation of Chinese laws, but not U.S. laws.

Pictures of the fossils were then sent to an expert, who confirmed that they were real.

The expert "stated that these fossils are of high scientific value. A review of the law of the Peoples Republic of China prohibits the sale of specially protected fossils to foreigners or foreign organizations."

Four days later, another agent returned to Yang's display area and was offered 13 Hadrosaurus eggs for a discounted rate of $5,000 US.

In addition to the $25,000 fine, Yang will also be on probation for five years.

University of Calgary paleontologist Darla Zelenitsky assisted the FBI as an expert witness in one of the largest fossil seizures in U.S. history, which happened in 2006 at an earlier Tucson trade show.

She said fossil smuggling out of China has been a big concern, and dates back to the 1990s, when local farmers collected thousands of dinosaur eggs and exported them for resale.

"The eggs are significant because they tell us about dinosaur nesting behaviors and reproduction," she said in an email.

"Skeletons can tell us about other aspects of the biology of a species, including how an animal grew, what it ate and how it behaved."

Zelinitsky said fossil smuggling leads to the loss of crucial scientific information about dinosaurs and the factors which led to their extinction.

Yang could not be reached for comment.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?