Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lolli Brothers: that’s one interesting business you’ve got there

Just when I despair of anything ever again being made in the USA – a despair that became more pronounced after last weekend’s visit to New York City, where nothing is made (except art and money), and everything is sold – I am reminded that we do produce food.

And some of that food is four-legged.

Thus the need for purveyors of livestock, such as the Lolli Brothers, who were written up in the current Atlantic. But the object of the Atlantic’s affection was not the Lolli Brothers, per se. While just about anything that happens in a flyover state is new and exotic fare for us big city and/or coastal elites, let’s face it, a plane vanilla cattle or horse auction is kind of – yawn! – boring.

But a couple of times a year, the Lolli’s mix up the boring old cattle and horse auctions with sales of exotics, complemented with “blow out” taxidermy sales.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my. (Wanted: dead or alive.) Not to mention camels, zebras, and kangaroo.

It’s not, however, the complete Wild West when it comes to animals.


Well, I’m certainly happy that there are no great apes for sale there. Talk about animals who should not be on the auction block, given that some of them are nearly sentient enough to be auctioneers themselves. And, while it’s certainly good that they don’t sell big cats over 6 months of age, what about the folks who buy big cats – I saw Bengals on the list – that are 5 months old? Would Lolli Brothers sell to civilians, or only to zoo keepers or circus owners or those who run flea-bitten roadside attractions? I don’t know whether it’s legal to own a Bengal tiger, but I’m thinking that it should not be.

As for skunks, cute as they are, who would want to keep a skunk?

But these days, the big draw at Lolli Brothers exotic auctions (one of which was held last week; aw, shucks: we missed the durn thing) is, apparently, rhino horns.

China’s surging economy has created a class of consumer willing to spend top yuan for these lumps of keratin—the same stuff that makes up human hair and nails—purported to treat everything from fevers and gout to high blood pressure and rheumatism. The Vietnamese market has become similarly overheated, fanned by tales like the one about a senior politician whose rhino-horn treatments cured him of liver cancer.

But laws against killing rhinos in the wild are being more strictly enforced these days. And this crackdown on live-dead rhinos, alongside the overall decimation of most rhino populations over the last several decades – all at a time when demand is on the rise - has caused an upsurge in the market for dead-dead rhinos.

Unfortunately for those who believe that mortared and pestled rhino horn is going to cure gout and liver cancer, “selling any horn for human consumption is prohibited.”

S0 the Vietnamese and Chinese send middle-men shills over to the Lolli auction to do their bidding (literally and figuratively).

Crawford Allen, North American director of Traffic, which monitors wildlife-trade, says that “What you’re seeing is criminal gangs trying to go around and buy up these horns to smuggle them out of the US. and into China and Vietnam.”

But the Lolli Brothers turn something of a blind eye to the potential for abuse.

“It’s all foreign money. These peons that come here is nothing. They’re buying for somebody—I’m sure,” said Lolli, who demands an affidavit from sellers, but worries that the exorbitant prices are creating a black market. “The Orientals will buy them, but it’s illegal to export them, so you’ve really got to watch what you’re doing. I don’t know what they do with them.”

Hmmmm. With a pair of horns selling for a final bid of $125K, it’s not all that difficult to use a tiny bit of imagination to figure out that powdered horn just might end up in a medicine cabinet in Shanghai or Ho Chi Minh City. And with a final bid of $125K, it may be way too difficult to add rhino horn to the list of stuff that Lolli Brothers doesn’t sell.

But, in what looks like a notably successful and long-standing family run business, why not stick to the ratites, and cave bear skulls like the one on offer in the Lolli Brothers gift I know, I know: it takes an awful lot of $2,500 a pop cave bear skulls – maybe even a whole clan of the cave bear -  to make up for $125K rhino horns. But what does it profit a business if it gains the world… Especially when it looks like they’ve got a pretty good business going in livestock, “exotics”, taxidermed creatures, and general western-themed paraphernalia. Good enough to grab some ink in the Atlantic, anyway.

Okay, okay, the rhino horns on offer at Lolli’s are from rhinos that are long gone. No harm to a live rhino, no foul to a live rhino… Still…

I draw little comfort from knowing that it’s not just rapacious Americans who are willing to despoil the earth and all that dwells upon it. Haven’t the Chinese and Vietnamese gotten the word that they can get a gout-defeating prescription for allopurinol at Walgreen’s?

As for the Lolli Brothers. Wouldn’t you feel better if you took the darned rhino horns off of your list of wares?

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