Tag Archives: sale

Poachers target rare bird’s ‘ivory’ beak in Southeast Asia

Some call it “ivory on wings,” part of the bill of a critically endangered bird in Southeast Asia that is sought by poachers and carved into ornaments for illegal sale to Chinese buyers.

The helmeted hornbill isn’t getting as much attention as the beleaguered African elephant at a global wildlife conference this week in South Africa.

But the killing of elephants by the tens of thousands for their tusks is intertwined with a surge in the slaughter of the rare bird whose beak part is a coveted substitute for ivory.

“It’s all part of the rising demand for ivory,” said Richard Thomas, spokesman for TRAFFIC, a conservation group based in Britain.

Poaching of the helmeted hornbill has soared since around 2010, particularly in Indonesia. The timing roughly coincides with an increase in elephant poaching that has caused a sharp drop in elephant populations. Last year, the helmeted hornbill was designated as critically endangered on an international “red list” of threatened species.

Delegates are discussing protections for elephants, helmeted hornbills and other vulnerable wildlife at a meeting in Johannesburg of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES . The 12-day meeting of the U.N. group, which regulates wildlife trade, ends Oct. 5.

The helmeted hornbill is a bird of lore, featuring in an ancient belief that it sits by a river between life and death. Its feathers have been used in traditional ceremonies. During breeding, the female is sealed into a nest, relying on the male to provide food.

The call of the helmeted hornbill is an intermittent, honking sound that slowly builds in tempo until it ends in what resembles, for some listeners, shrieks of laughter. Loud and long, the call helps poachers locate their prey.

In a CITES document , Indonesia asked for more collaboration among law enforcement agencies from countries where helmeted hornbills live, as well as “end market” nations — a reference primarily to China.

China, the world’s main ivory consumer, has already said it plans to close its domestic ivory market.

A large lump on top of the beak of the helmeted hornbill is made of keratin, a protein also found in rhino horn and other animal and human parts. It has a red tinge is softer than elephant ivory, making it an attractive material for carvers who have fashioned belt buckles, snuff boxes, pendants and images of Chinese deities from it over many centuries.

The upper part of the bill, also known as a casque, is solid, unlike the hollow casques of other hornbill species. Its price on the illegal market is higher than that of elephant ivory. A casque weighs up to 350 grams (0.7 pounds); the average weight of an elephant tusk is five kilograms (11 pounds), though a big male’s tusk can weigh 10 times as much.

At least 2,170 heads and bill parts of helmeted hornbills were confiscated from the illegal trade in Indonesia and China between 2012 and 2014, TRAFFIC said.

Investigators found helmeted hornbill products being sold openly in Laos, a major transit point for wildlife traffickers that borders China, according to a TRAFFIC report released this month. Sale locations included a luxury hotel and convention center in central Vientiane, the capital, it said.

Indonesia said it has arrested more than 20 people in the helmeted hornbill trade and sentenced most of them. Penalties include up to five years in jail and a heavy fine.

On Saturday, rangers in Indonesia’s Gunung Leuser National Park arrested a suspected helmeted hornbill poacher with a rifle and silencer, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, or WCS, a group based in New York. The suspect had just entered the forest and did not have any bird parts.

“This species needs to be on people’s radars,” said Elizabeth Bennett, vice president of species conservation at WCS.

Illegal logging in Indonesia is shrinking the habitat of the helmeted hornbill. Conservationists fear poachers will focus on the Malaysian population once supply dries up in Indonesia.

The call of the helmeted hornbill is an intermittent, honking sound that slowly builds in tempo until it ends in what resembles, for some listeners, shrieks of laughter. Loud and long, the call helps poachers locate their prey.
The call of the helmeted hornbill is an intermittent, honking sound that slowly builds in tempo until it ends in what resembles, for some listeners, shrieks of laughter. Loud and long, the call helps poachers locate their prey.


Diego Rivera painting sells privately for $15.7 million

A Diego Rivera painting has sold privately for $15.7 million, setting a world record price for any Latin American work of art, Phillips auction house said this month.

The price for “Dance in Tehuantepec” nearly doubles the figure paid at auction last month for a painting by Frida Kahlo, Rivera’s wife. Her “Two Nudes in the Forest (The Land Itself)” set a new auction record for Latin American art

The private sale was facilitated by Phillips.

The buyer, Argentinian collector Eduardo Costantini, told The Associated Press that he has waited 20 years to acquire “Dance in Tehuantepec,” which he unsuccessfully tried to purchase in 1995 when it came up at auction at Sotheby’s.

It has been out of public view since then.

“I always wondered who had bought the painting and where it was,”Costantini, founder and president of the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires, said in a phone interview from Buenos Aires.

“Dance in Tehuantepec,” created in 1928, depicts a group of dancers performing the folk dance “zandunga” under a banana tree. It is one of the largest canvases the acclaimed Mexican muralist painted during his lifetime. It measures 79 inches by 64 1/2 inches.

Costantini said he plans to exhibit the painting at his museum next March. Prior to that it will be shown at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the fall and at the ARCO Madrid next February.

The painting is the most important Rivera work in private hands outside of Mexico, said August Uribe, deputy chairman of the Americas at Phillips.

It first appeared in 1930 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and was included in a major Diego Rivera retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York a year later.

Uribe said the painting shows Rivera’s efforts “to establish a national identity by breaking from European modernism and embracing Mexicanism.”

Board to consider putting another 5,900 acres up for sale

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ board was set this week to decide whether to sell nearly 6,000 more acres of land to help satisfy a state budget mandate but won’t take up a proposal to sell lakefront property to one of Gov. Scott Walker’s major donors.

The Natural Resources Board was expected to approve an agency plan on Feb. 24 to designate 5,900 acres for sale at a meeting in Madison. The board already has approved selling about 1,400 acres.

Republicans added provisions to the 2013-15 budget that require the DNR to sell 10,000 acres by mid-2017 to help pay down ballooning debt in the stewardship program, the mechanism the agency uses to borrow money for land purchases. The land must lie outside the boundaries of existing projects such as state parks or state forests.

GOP lawmakers have criticized the program for years; they say it takes too much land off the tax rolls, generates too much debt and forces the state to pay too much to local governments to offset lost property taxes when land enters the program. The agency owns about 1.5 million acres and has easements on another 303,561 acres, according to a memo DNR officials sent to the Natural Resources Board earlier this month.

The board in June 2014 approved 1,407 acres for sale. The DNR has now recommended the board put another 5,900 acres on the sales block, including 23 parcels totaling 2,405 acres that would be sold to municipalities and tribes. Most of the land would have to be kept open to the public for outdoor activities as a condition of sale.

The agency also has recommended selling 35 parcels totaling 2,486 acres with no legal access to a road to adjoining property owners; and 24 parcels totaling 1,009 acres to the general public via competitive bids. The parcels are spread across more than two dozen counties. A complete list of the parcels is available on the DNR’s website.

The board was expected to vote on selling the parcels during a meeting on Feb. 24 in Madison. Approval would bring the total number of acres approved for sale to 7,307. Board members also are expected to consider granting the DNR permission to begin studying the possibility of selling another 32 parcels totaling 2,195 acres.

The DNR has sold 394 acres so far, generating $637,000, DNR spokesman George Althoff said.

The board also was expected to consider selling 1.75 acres along the Rest Lake shoreline in the town of Manitowish Waters to Walker donor Elizabeth Uihlein, but Altoff said that sale wasn’t on the board’s agenda and that the property’s future was “undetermined.”

Uihlein and her husband, Richard Uihlein, gave Unintimidated PAC, a super PAC that backed Walker’s ill-fated presidential bid, $3 million last year, according to federal campaign finance reports. She owns a condominium complex adjacent to the DNR’s Rest Lake property but the condos lack lake access.

The DNR had planned to sell her the land for $275,000. The agency said the land was appraised at $384,000 in February 2015 and again in June at $238,000. Walker’s critics ripped the deal, calling it a sweetheart deal for a donor.

The board was set to take up the sale during a meeting in September but tabled the proposal after Preston Cole, then the board’s chairman, said the board should take it up as part of the broader sale recommendations in February.

On the Web


Fate of hundreds of baboons in research program uncertain

The fate of hundreds of baboons at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center research facility in El Reno remains uncertain after the school announced plans to wind down the program that used the animals.

In September, OU president David Boren said the program would come to an end in three to four years.

The announcement came after animal rights groups raised concerns about findings of non-compliance with the Animal Welfare Act by USDA veterinarian medical officers inspecting the facility.

The Norman Transcript reports it’s likely the animals will continue to be sold for research for now.

The university says it is working with the National Institutes of Health to develop a plan for placement of the baboons, including the possibility of putting some of the animals in sanctuaries.

O’Donnell Park sale leaves public out in the cold

Public parks are rarely sold to for-profit corporations. But Milwaukee County may soon sell the postcard-perfect Lakefront promontory O’Donnell Park to Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. On Dec. 18, county supervisors will vote to approve or reject the proposed sale.

This is a bad financial deal for taxpayers. It removes from the parks’ budget an annual $1.3-million-dollar income stream. It denies the public all future rights to a priceless park with some of downtown Milwaukee’s best views. 

O’Donnell Park is often dismissed as just a “parking garage.” At the east end of Wisconsin Avenue, Mark Di Suvero’s sunbeam sculpture boldly greets you. From there, you see the Milwaukee Art Museum’s soaring Calatrava-designed pavilion. Perhaps you’ve attended an event at the Miller Room or Coast restaurant, or you’ve taken young friends or family to the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. If this deal closes, all O’Donnell Park facilities will become Northwestern Mutual property, to use as the corporation wishes.  

So will the two garden plazas that extend from Mason to Michigan streets. Both are popular settings for weddings. (If you want to get married there, book soon, because a private buyer will have no obligation to rent out the gardens or pavilion venues.) O’Donnell Park may evolve into a private playground, a 9-acre extension of NML’s campus. 

In its proposed contract, NML guarantees only two things. A specified number of parking spaces will be made available to the public at certain times at market rates. People will also be able to walk through the site to get to the Milwaukee Art Museum. But those options end in 2033, when the “useful life” of O’Donnell’s parking structure will expire, according to the contract (or even sooner, if NM Ldecides).

A legal analysis by attorney William Lynch confirms that, despite vague reassurances by NML reps, the public will be left out in the cold with this sale. NML probably won’t raze the park immediately, but its officials acknowledge they will ultimately redevelop the site as they choose. The contract says nothing about keeping this prime Lakefront acreage a public park. The public will lose any future possibility to re-imagine O’Donnell.

The proposed selling price is jaw-dropping. Taxpayers and other donors invested $36 million to build O’Donnell in 1992. Based on the recent sale of the nearby Irgens’ site, O’Donnell’s land alone is worth about $40 million. Conservatively, the land and facilities are now worth perhaps $76 million. But Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele has agreed to sell the park complex to NM, one of the richest companies in America, for $12.7 million. As a career real estate investor, I would never sell on those terms. But it’s a buyer’s dream.

NML is a terrific Milwaukee employer but does not deserve this kind of taxpayer subsidy. The City of Milwaukee already granted the corporation $73 million in tax credits to rebuild its headquarters. 

Urge your county supervisors to vote “no” on this pending sale (it’s easy to contact them online). Yes, it’s the season of giving, but we need not give away an irreplaceable community asset. Only a lease or conservancy arrangement will preserve this inherited gem for future generations.

Pat Small, a longtime landlord, believes in vigorously protecting public assets, such as parks, for the common good.

Alpine Valley Music Theatre is for sale

The Wisconsin music venue tucked away in the rolling hills of Walworth County that has hosted such musical greats as the Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam and the Grateful Dead is for sale.

Alpine Valley Music Theatre is also the place where guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan and four others were killed in a helicopter crash following a performance on Aug. 27, 1990.

Now the amphitheater and its 198-acre property are on the market for $8.4 million. SFX, now Live Nation, bought the property in 1999.

The Music Theatre was built in 1977. The concert bowl seats 37,000 people.

Versace mansion up for auction in South Beach

Snake-haired, golden Medusa heads still glint from the gates, the swimming pool and flower pots at 1116 Ocean Drive, vestiges of the glamour fashion designer Gianni Versace brought to South Beach before his death on his own front steps.

Though the Versace family hasn’t owned the oceanfront mansion since 2000, auctioneers hope the Italian designer’s legacy will attract bidders to the Miami Beach property when it goes up for auction Sept. 17.

Serious inquiries only, please. The minimum bid is set for $25 million. To even see the property, potential buyers must sign a confidentiality agreement and prove they have the money to close a deal.

Here’s what comes with the house: a swimming pool inlaid with 24-karat gold tiles, gold-plated bathroom fixtures, high walls that block the sounds on busy Ocean Drive, panoramic views of the ocean from a rooftop observatory and mosaic flooring and frescos and murals custom-made for Versace himself.

Each room has been uniquely furnished by the current owner, and the furniture comes with the sale, including beds so large they need custom-made sheets.

Half a dozen buyers have expressed interest since the auction was announced, said Lamar Fisher, president and CEO of Fisher Auction Company. “They range from very, very high-profile individuals and celebrities to international buyers from the Russian market to the South American market,” Fisher said.

Their new neighbors will include thousands of tourists regularly streaming past the corner property. Many pose for pictures at its front gates, like Nicole and Daniel Francis did recently.

The couple works in the fashion industry in New York City and recognized the mansion as something special, even if Versace no longer lived there.

“We’re big fashion fanatics,” Nicole Francis said. “It’s a Miami landmark.”

Fisher noted that the mansion comes with eight designated park spaces on Ocean Drive, making for a quick getaway from the tourist traffic.

“The individuals that are interested actually love the location because they can easily get to the night life of South Beach, and get right to the cruise ships where they want to go or to their yachts and also get to the airport for their private jets,” he said.

It’s been officially named Casa Casuarina for more than a decade, but the property still commonly referred to as “the Versace mansion” was initially listed for sale at $125 million last year. The asking price dropped to $100 million and then last month to $75 million.

Casa Casuarina operated as a private club and then as a boutique hotel until earlier this year. A bankruptcy court appointed Fisher Auction Company to put the property up for auction.

Versace and an entourage of celebrity friends that included Madonna, Cher and Elton John helped revive South Beach in the 1990s from a retirement community known as “God’s waiting room” to the pulsating, almost-anything-goes party hub that attracts tourists today.

The designer bought a neglected three-story, Mediterranean-style home, originally built in 1930 by Standard Oil heir Alden Freeman, and a dilapidated hotel next door in 1992 and spent $33 million on renovations. The 23,000-square-foot (2,137-square-meter) mansion now has 10 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, a 54-foot(16 1/2-meter)-long mosaic pool lined with 24-karat gold tiles and an open-air courtyard.

Versace was fatally shot on the mansion’s stone front steps in 1997 by spree killer Andrew Cunanan, who later shot himself as a police search closed in on him. No one inside the mansion’s gates wanted to talk about Versace’s death, except to point out that he was slain outside its doors.

“He’s everywhere here,” said Jill Eber, a Miami real estate agent working in conjunction with Fisher Auction Company on the mansion’s sale. “Versace lived here and owned it and designed it, and that’s where people are focused.”

Versace’s death wasn’t the mansion’s only link to scandal. High-profile attorney Scott Rothstein owned a share in the mansion after its 2000 sale, until federal agents seized it among his other assets in their investigation into a massive Ponzi scheme. Rothstein is now serving a 50-year prison sentence.

Catholic Church sued for refusing to sell mansion to gay couple

A gay couple is suing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester for allegedly refusing to sell them a mansion because Church officials were concerned they would host gay weddings at the site.

James Fairbanks and Alain Beret of Massachusetts filed the suit on Sept. 9 in superior court in Worcester, Mass.

They allege that they were in negotiations to buy Oakhurst, a former retreat center in Northbridge, when church officials suddenly pulled out.

They say they inadvertently received an email from the chancellor of the diocese to the church’s broker saying the reason was because of the “potentiality of gay marriages” at the home.

Chancellor Thomas Sullivan says the church dropped out of negotiations because of concerns about Fairbanks’ and Beret’s ability to finance the purchase.

The property was known as the House of Affirmation and served as a retreat for troubled priests. The retreat was founded by the Rev. Thomas A. Kane and was in operation from 1973 to 1990, when it was closed after Kane was accused of financial improprieties, according to BishopAccountability.org. Kane was subsequently accused of sexual abuse, and allegations of sexual abuse at the facilility then came to light.

Bay View club plans plant sale

The Bay View Garden and Yard Society, in collaboration with the South Shore Park Watch and Milwaukee County Parks, hosts its annual Bay View Plant Sale at South Shore Park, 2900 South Shore Drive, on June 2, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.

The sale features local, commercial plant vendors with hundreds of annuals and perennials, hanging baskets, ornamental trees and shrubs, vegetables and herbs, exotic heirlooms and tropical plants.

For more, go to the group’s Facebook page.

Download a PDF of the current issue of Wisconsin Gazette and join our Facebook community.