Elephant skull a big headache
When money trouble led collector Jerry Snapp to put his prized possession up for sale, he had no idea what lay ahead.
Jerry Snapp at home with the remaining bones of an Asian elephant named Annie whose skull he had listed for sale on Craigslist. He bought the bones at a rendering plant in Vernon after Annie had died at the Los Angeles Zoo. Snapp wasn't sure that selling the skull constituted a violation of the federal Endangered Species Act. He was found guilty and sentenced to three years' probation with home detention. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times / January 25, 2010)
He picked her up in the spring of '97. He heard about her from a friend and wanted to know where she came from.
"The L.A. Zoo," his friend said.
And how much did she cost?
The next day he rented a truck and headed off to D&D Rendering in Vernon. Tiffany was out back, her head slowly rotting in a gray plastic box, destined for a landfill if a buyer wasn't found. Her three legs stood off to a side; no one explained the missing one.
Snapp paid cash, and a forklift dropped the box onto the truck. Once home in Riverside, he found a corner of his property sheltered from the breeze and added dermestid beetles. Soon he could hear them chewing away, a sound like a child eating Cheetos.
It took two years, and when the beetles were done, Snapp washed the skull with peroxide, named her Tiffany -- the glittery name from a tiara that he had saved from a Halloween costume -- and put her on display.
She fit right in with the assorted oddities of his Wunderkammer, the Cabinet of Curiosities, which he took on the road to renaissance fairs and craft shows. For only a buck, cameras allowed, visitors could view his collection of Neolithic weapons, shrunken heads, crystals, eggs and such phantasmagoric creations as a chupacabra, a unicorn and a mutant creature from New Guinea.
Tiffany maintained a regal and mysterious mien. Her sinus cavities looked like eyes, two flanges of bone like teeth. No one believed she was an elephant. She came from Asia, Snapp explained; that's why her tusks were so small.
But those days were over. The recession had hit, and Snapp was broke. He had no choice but to try to sell her. It was a decision he wished he had never made.
Initially she didn't have a name. She had come to the United States from Thailand as a baby, a gift to the children of Utica, N.Y., from the Utica Mutual Insurance Co., and the city rolled out the red carpet for her. Norman Rockwell couldn't have painted a happier scene. It was late summer, 1966.
Clowns, Mr. Peanut, an honor guard of 12 lucky children, the mayor, Jungle George and a goat named Paula greeted her on the tarmac. Within the week, she was christened Asiannie, 7-year-old Terri-Jo Barton's entry in a Name the Elephant contest.
In the fall, 4 million elementary school students across the country read about Asiannie in a My Weekly Reader news feature, and the citizens of Utica beamed with pride.
Two years later, she had outgrown her pen, and zoo officials considered selling her and buying another elephant rather than pay for a new home. But the children rallied, and additional space was found.
When she topped 3,000 pounds in 1971, the zoo had no choice but to sell her to a broker in Delaware. Tranquilized and in the company of Stanley the sheep, she was loaded onto a horse van when no one was looking.
Close to the Pennsylvania border, her van got stranded in a blizzard -- 23 inches in 36 hours. She almost died.
Snapp posted Tiffany on Craigslist for $9,000 on Nov. 11, 2008, and immediately heard from a collector in Toutle, Wash. They exchanged e-mails, but negotiations stopped when Snapp admitted he didn't have documentation proving the skull was legally obtained.
Because Tiffany was an Asian elephant and because Asian elephants were endangered, Snapp realized that selling her might be a violation of the Endangered Species Act. But he was uncertain: He hadn't imported Tiffany, and she came into the country before the act was passed in 1973.