Mammoth tusk theft lands Alaskan man in jail

Anchorage: An Alaskan man who stole a fossilised woolly mammoth tusk and sliced it into pieces for resale will serve nearly three years in federal prison.

US District Judge Sharon Gleason sentenced Martin Elze, 52, to 33 months for the theft of the 1.7-metre tusk from a small Bureau of Land Management museum in Anchorage. Gleason also ordered Elze to pay $US8385.82 ($11,760) in restitution to the Campbell Creek Science Centre.

A woolly mammoth in the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, Canada. The display is from 1979, and the fur is musk ox hair.

Elze pleaded guilty to one count of removal of a paleontological resource in December. An accomplice, Gary Lynn Boyd, pleaded guilty in January and will be sentenced on May 15.

The woolly mammoth is Alaska's official state fossil. The intact tusk was worth $US7000 to $9000, according to federal prosecutors. Artists carve pieces for jewellery or small sculptures.

The tusk was displayed at the science centre, a popular destination for Anchorage schoolchildren, and where visitors could touch the tusk.

Pat Druckenmiller, director of the University of Alaska Museum of the North, said mammoths generally died out at the end of the Pleistocene Era 11,000 to 12,000 years ago. A few survived on islands such as Wrangel Island off north-east Siberia until about 4000 years ago, he said.

The stolen tusk was one of several found in the mid-1980s near the Colville River, which flows into the Arctic Ocean north of the Brooks Range.

The curved tusk was mottled brown, about 20 centimetres in diameter on the large end and 15 centimetres in diameter at the narrow end.

Elze and Boyd visited the small museum on March 17 last year and asked staff about the tusk's weight and authenticity, prosecutors said. One night later, they returned. Boyd used a rock to break a window and open a door, causing $US1385.22 in damage.

The museum's video surveillance system recorded the theft.


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