This is one dinosaur skeleton that won’t be on display at the American Museum of Natural History.
Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said this week that a massive Tyrannosaurus skeleton currently being housed in Queens was stolen from a Mongolian desert, smuggled into the city and sold at a Manhattan auction last May.
Bharara announced a civil complaint Monday that seeks to return the stolen dinosaur skeleton to its native Mongolia, where officials are clamoring to get it back.
A U.S. attorney’s office spokeswoman said the skeleton is now at Cadogan Tate, art storage in Sunnyside, Queens. When fully assembled, the dino skeleton stretches 24 feet long and stands eight feet high.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Luis Martinez told Metro they hope to move it to a government warehouse for safekeeping soon — and want to then ship it to Mongolia.
“We’re in the process of taking custody of it,” he said.
Bharara said the bones are a nearly complete Tyrannosaurus bataar, a cousin of the T-Rex, looted from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia.
And back to Mongolia it should go, Bharara said.
“The skeletal remains of this dinosaur are of tremendous cultural and historic significance to the people of Mongolia,” he said. "When the skeleton was allegedly looted, a piece of the country’s natural history was stolen with it.”
Customs officials said the skeleton was brought into the U.S. in March 2010, listing its country of origin as Great Britain.
But Tyrannosaurus bataars have only been found in Mongolia. Paleontologists confirmed that the prehistoric specimen must have been from the country.
The alleged smugglers estimated its worth as only $15,000 – but it sold for more than $1 million at a Chelsea auction in May, according to the court documents.
Officials have not yet charged smugglers in the case.
Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj weighed in with praise, saying, “I thank and applaud the United States Attorney’s Office in this action to recover the Tyrannosaurus bataar, an important piece of the cultural heritage of the Mongolian people."
Court documents say that the Gobi desert is a “fertile fossil field of dinosaur relics.”
Officials estimate this skeleton was unearthed between 1995 and 2005.
According to court documents, the Tyrannosaurus bataar is a native of Mongolia, from the late Cretaceous period about 70 million years ago. Such fossils were first found in 1946, by Soviet and Mongolian explorers in the Gobi Desert.
In Mongolia, exporting dinosaur fossils away from the country is a crime.