A 23 million year old fossil was taken by parties unknown

Legally, the remains could not be exported. “The problem of establishing a fossil market and tracking fossils after they’ve been collected means that all bets are off,” Dr Bosenecker said.

“New Zealand is still a pioneering society,” says Richard Hollaway, a paleontologist at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury, who says there is little legal protection for fossils. “And if it’s there and I want it, I’ll go and get it.”

“Some of us are working behind the scenes to improve that protection, but it’s a tall order,” he added.

Fossil collecting laws vary around the world, though they are often incomplete or dictated by other groups, including fossil traders, said John Long, a paleontologist at Australia’s Flinders University and author of the book “Dinosaur Traders.”

“Politicians don’t care about making laws,” he said. “It’s a terrible situation, but the way things are now, I dare say.

For those in Karamea, a precious experience is gone for good.

“You feel like something has been taken away,” said David Guppy, who lives in the area. He added: “Even if they are proven wrong and the remains are returned – I mean, it’s not the same.”

But with prosecution seemingly impossible, that’s a long shot. “Legitimacy – well, I have no idea,” said New Zealand paleontologist Dr. Hollaway. “But ethically? It’s total environmental destruction.”

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