Museum chief's art gets look from U.S.

Smithsonian director's collection examined for endangered species items

April 27, 2002|By HEARST NEWSPAPERS

WASHINGTON - Investigators from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have inspected the private collection of Amazonian tribal art owned by Lawrence Small, the head of the Smithsonian Institution, to determine whether he illegally owns feathers or teeth from endangered animals, an agency spokeswoman said.

The collection includes headdresses, spears and capes fashioned from the feathers of exotic birds, and inspectors believe some of the items may have been imported in violation of the Endangered Species Act or the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species.

That law and treaty bar the purchase or importation of products made with endangered species or the purchase of products made with endangered wildlife in violation of the conservation laws of Brazil, where the items originated. Violations could result in confiscation of the items and criminal or civil charges.

Small has said his 1,000-piece collection complies with the law.

"Lawrence Small has been cooperative and we have looked at the collection," said Diana Weaver of the Fish and Wildlife Service, a division of the Interior Department. Speaking from the agency's offices in Hadley Mass., Weaver said the service was still investigating the case.

Weaver declined to say whether investigators had removed items in the collection. In some cases, items are removed and shipped to agency ornithologists and mammologists. In other cases, investigators take extensive pictures and send those to experts for review, she said.

"Both of those options could be done" in the Small case, she said.

Inspectors also might confiscate items if they believe the target of the investigation was preparing to move them away or if investigators were close to charging the target with a legal violation.

The wildlife service opened the Small investigation in November 2000 and closed it in March last year after receiving copies of import permits and written assurances from Small that the collection didn't contain products from endangered species.

The agency reopened the investigation last summer after reviewing additional information from published photographs of Small's collection and reports from ornithologists.

Small declined to comment yesterday, steering questions to his attorney, Daniel Squire, a partner at the firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering.

Squire said Small has cooperated and opened the doors of his private gallery to wildlife service investigators. "It was a completely voluntary inspection and we are waiting to hear back from them," Squire said.

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