Ever dream of having a cobra- and buffalo-skin tablecloth for those intimate third dates? Or hitting the town in a shiny pair of eel-skin leather boots? This week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced an online auction of forfeited and abandoned wildlife products through Lone Star Auctioneers in Austin, Texas. This stuff makes a neighborhood garage sale look like the lost-and-found box at a preschool.
Fish and Wildlife has selected some 300,000 items from an inventory of 1.5 million housed at the National Wildlife Property Repository in Denver (yes, they've got a repository for this stuff). Besides the tablecloth and eel boots, we found Siberian weasel furs, monitor lizard watchbands, python-skin pumps and troca shell necklaces. We've never seen anyone sport a troca shell in Missoula—it's an elegant little white spiral shell—but it certainly looks trendy enough to sport at the Finn and Porter.
Fish and Wildlife stresses that none of the products up for bid are made from threatened or endangered species. Also, no hunting or wildlife parts will be sold. Mostly, the items come from import businesses that failed to follow basic regulations or obtain the proper permits. That's all well and good, but leaves one question unanswered: Just how bad must things be at the National Wildlife Property Repository to have to hold a public auction?
The answer: pretty bad. According to a Fish and Wildlife release, the repository was so overwhelmed in 2009 that it "forced the facility to temporarily suspend receipt of all shipments from Service law enforcement officers across the country." The release also states this is the first time it has held an auction like this since 1999.
Clearly the issue of abuse of wildlife isn't exclusive to Montana's poaching and illegal commercial outfitting rings, the subject of a recent Indy cover story. Casting off the aforementioned fur coat—the making of which required more than a few Siberian weasels to reluctantly give their lives—sounds about as wasteful as lopping the head off a big horn sheep and leaving the carcass to rot. If you hadn't already heard, Washington resident Alan T. Sweet appeared in Ravalli County District Court this week facing those exact charges.
Fortunately, proceeds from the online auction (found at www.lonestaronline.com) will be used to "educate the public about wildlife trade and global conservation." And, last time we checked, bids for the items averaged a modest $20. That seems a small price to pay for better education of a growing problem—and, we guess, some choice ostrich skin belts.