MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A professor at St. Cloud State University was arrested Tuesday, charged with importing and exporting ivory from elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns.

The indictment claims Professor Yiwei Zheng smuggled the specimens in and out of the U.S. between 2006 and 2011, ultimately selling many of the items to two individuals in China.

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Zheng was freed after a brief court appearance, and told reporters he believed he was running a legitimate business.

These allegations are an indication of how much the black market is thriving, despite efforts since 1976 by more than 170 countries — including the U.S. — to protect endangered species.

Zheng, accompanied by his wife, said he would fight the charges, which are spelled out in a 12-page federal indictment.

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He has an online business called Crouching Dragon Antiques. Some of the transactions noted in the indictment were made on the website eBay.

The indictment claims Zhang conspired with two Chinese nationals. In one example in 2010, the two Chinese individuals wired $20,000 to pay a Florida antiques dealer for two rhino horns Zheng had purchased. He then allegedly sent the horns to the individuals in China.

Powdered rhinoceros horn is believed to have medicinal values in parts of Asia, and libation cups carved from rhino horns can be worth tens of thousands of dollars. Ivory from the tusks of elephants has been prized for centuries.

St. Cloud State confirmed Zheng is a professor at the university and has apparently been there for about 15 years.

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The university did not get back to WCCO on whether his status has changed.

Esme Murphy