Once upon a time the Black Rhinoceros, native to eastern and central Africa, was the most numerous of the rhino species. Now it's critically endangered, and one subspecies, the Western Black Rhinoceros, was declared extinct by the IUCN in 2011. We have antiques dealers like David Hausman to thank for that—rhino populations have been decimated by poachers who cut off their horns to make ornately carved handles for ceremonial daggers sought by Arab countries. Hausman, a Manhattan dealer, was ultimately caught by the Feds in a motel parking lot in Illinois sawing the horns of a taxidermied rhino head.
It's a weird story. According to the Manhattan US Attorney’s Office, Hausman initially contacted the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in December 2010, identifying himself as a rare antiques dealer who wanted to help the feds bust a Pennsylvania auction house that was allegedly selling the head of a Black Rhinoceros. But upon learning that the deal was not finalized, Hausman bought the rhino head himself, using an intermediary to protect his identity.
After the purchase was completed, Hausman told his buyer to remove the horns and mail them to him. According to prosecutors, he then "made a realistic set of fake horns using synthetic materials and directed the straw buyer to attach them on the Rhinoceros head in order to deceive law enforcement in the event that they conducted an investigation." And he would have gotten away with it too, if he hadn't decided to buy more endangered rhino heads. This time, the sale was conducted over the Internet, and the on-line seller was an undercover federal agent.
Hausman met the agent at a truck stop in Illinois, where he paid cash for a Black Rhinoceros mount. Then he went to his motel, where he proceeded to saw off the horns in the parking lot. That's when FWS agents swooped in for the bust. They seized four rhinoceros heads from his apartment, as well as six Black Rhinoceros horns, numerous carved and partially carved rhinoceros horns, fake rhinoceros horns, and $28,000 in cash.
Hausman pled guilty to one count of obstruction of justice, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and one count of creating a false record in violation of the Lacey Act, a federal wildlife protection statute, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. According to the terms of a plea deal, he likely faces up to two years in prison when he's sentenced December 5th. At a recent court hearing, Hausman told the judge, “I failed society, my family, my friends ... and the conservation and animal rights community. I blame no one but myself."