Sunday 29 July 2012

Dinosaur skeleton vandalized in Alberta, Canada.

A more-or-less complete Hadrosaur skeleton discovered on 15 June 2012, near Red Willow River in Alberta, Canada, was found to have been destroyed when scientists  from the University of Alberta returned to the sight on 21 June. The dinosaur  had been covered by a protective plaster coating prior to excavation be the by scientists, who had hoped to house the skeleton at the new River of Death and Discovery Museum being built in nearby Wembley, but this had been ripped apart, and the skeleton beneath destroyed, apparently with sledgehammers. 

The vandalized dinosaur site. HQ Grande Prairie.

Vandalism has become an increasingly worrying problem at palaeontological excavation sites in Alberta in the past few years, with a number of sites being targeted, apparently by looters; dinosaur remains are extremely valuable and there is (unfortunately) a thriving black market. This had previously been curtailed by legislation in the 1970s which introduced stiff penalties for damaging sites in Canada (up to C$40 000 in fines and a year in prison), however the crime appears to be on the rise again, apparently fueled by the rising value of black-market material. To make matters worse the new generation of Canadian illegal excavators do not seem to be particularly talented, reducing the chances of the material being recovered in reasonable condition by law enforcement agencies, as has happened in other parts of the world. Dinosaur sites have also been vandalized in some places by people who object to the science behind the discoveries.

The precise motivation for the Red Willow Creek Vandalism remains unclear; a number of bones appear to be missing, but others seem to have been smashed and left at the site. There appears to have been some sort of alcohol-fueled party at the site, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are in possession of liquor-store receipts found at the site, which they hope to use to track the perpetrators. 

Scientists from the University of Alberta hope to be able to salvage some of the material from the site, but it is unlikely a full reconstruction will ever now be possible. Intact dinosaur skeletons are extremely rare, and are of great value to palaeontologists, who can learn a great deal about how dinosaurs lived from them. They are also of considerable value to museums as public exhibits, and can contribute significantly to tourism revenues in areas where they are found, both for museums and for other local businesses.

The remains of the vandalized Hadrosaur. Philip Bell/University of Alberta. 

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