Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



St. Cloud State prof arrested for allegedly smuggling ivory, rhinoceros horn

A philosophy professor at St. Cloud State University was arrested Tuesday morning by federal agents for allegedly smuggling elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn out of the United States and into China from 2006 through at least 2011.

Yiwei Zheng, 42, was arrested by agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service following the unsealing of a grand jury indictment alleging that he violated the Endangered Species Act and international treaties protecting threatened wildlife.

Zheng, who has taught at the university since 1999, was arrested Tuesday morning at a restaurant in St. Cloud and was to appear later Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven E. Rau in federal court in St. Paul.

The indictment said Zheng also illegally imported specimens into the U.S. from China, and made false statements to agents about selling rhino horns.

Agents say Zheng told them he sold the horns to a man at a McDonald’s restaurant in St. Cloud, but in fact he illegally exported the horns to a co-conspirator in China, according to the indictment.


The case is significant because it is part of an ongoing national crackdown by wildlife agents targeting traffickers in the multibillion-dollar international poaching network that is decimating iconic species in Africa and Asia. This is believed to be first such smuggling case in Minnesota. The overall value and quantity of items that Zheng smuggled is not listed in court documents.

Elephant ivory and rhino horn have been internationally regulated since 1976, with more than 173 countries signing a treaty to protect imperiled wildlife, fish and plants. In the past five years, rampant poaching across Africa and Asia has led to skyrocketing prices on the international black market for ornamental carvings on tusks and rhino horns, as well as for powdered horn that is used in some cultures for medicinal purposes that range from fighting cancer to enhancing sexual potency in men.

The market is so lucrative that it has drawn organized crime groups who control poaching operations from the field to final sales — providing everything from weapons and transportation to GPS tracking systems to logistical support for smuggling tusks and horns across international networks.

Zheng, a naturalized U.S. citizen who grew up in Shanghai, has operated an online sales business out of his St. Cloud home called "Crouching Dragon Antiques" since 2010. On the site, Zheng has offered wildlife specimen parts for sale under the description that the items were made from "ox bone," when they were actually suspected of being elephant ivory that was being smuggled to China, according to a federal search warrant.

There are no records of Zheng or the business ever obtaining an import-export license, or declaring any wildlife specimens upon import from any foreign country, according to the warrant.

Zheng’s business activities in buying and selling artifacts has drawn the interest of federal authorities dating back to at least 2011, when a libation cup made from Javan rhino horn was confiscated from him.

Agents were alerted because the package did not have the proper documentation for import-export purposes, records show. An agent found that Zheng had illegally shipped the cup, which he had bought from Christie’s of France, in Paris, because he had not properly accounted for how he acquired and shipped that item to the U.S., according to court records.

In 2011, federal agents launched "Operation Crash" to systematically target poaching rings, including buyers and sellers. The operation was so named because a "crash" is the term used to describe a herd of rhinos.


Intricately carved libation cups from rhino horn, for example, are in huge demand in China. In part, it was such an object that put agents on Zheng’s trail. In 2011, wildlife agents in Memphis, Tenn., learned from a FedEx Trade Networks unit that Zheng had shipped a suspicious package from France to the U.S.

What To Read Next
Get Local