Photo Source: National Geographic/Heritage Auctions

Photo Source: National Geographic/Heritage Auctions

Have you ever heard of a Tarbosaurus Bataar? Probably not, but how about a Tyrannosaurus Rex? A Tarbosaurus Bataar was a dinosaur similar to a T-Rex that’s only ever been found in Mongolia. When a complete skeleton went up for auction in the United States, a Paleontologist and an Attorney teamed up to get the stolen dinosaur back to its rightful home. You can hear all about it in the newest episode of the Overheard at National Geographic podcast titled “The United States v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar.”

Paleontologist Bolortesteg Minjin was enjoying a beverage at a New York coffee shop when she saw a story on the news about a complete dinosaur fossil going up for auction that looked to her like a species only found in Mongolia. Since the 1920’s, all of Mongolia’s fossils have left the country for research and in some cases, illegally smuggled for sale, breaking a law that fossils are the property of the country. After confirming that the auction was for a Tarbosaurus Bataar, also known as a Tyrannosaurus Bataar, she reached out to the Mongolian government who asked her to assist with the return of the fossils.

With just three days to auction, where the dinosaur was expected to fetch $1 million, attorney Robert Painter got involved, breaking with his typical medical malpractice cases. Painter practices law in Texas, not New York, but the auction house’s warehouse was in Texas and the attorney was successful in getting a restraining order against the auction house.

However, the New York auction refused to delay their sale. That’s when Robert got on an airplane to try and stop the sale in person. His efforts were unsuccessful, but before the bones could be sent to the buyer, a federal prosecutor in New York took over the case, confiscating the fossils until they could go to trial in the first case where one of the parties is a fossilized dinosaur.

Michael Greshko, a science writer for National Geographic, also participated in this week’s episode to provide additional background on dinosaur fossils in Mongolia. American paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews, the man who reportedly inspired the idea for Indiana Jones, who discovered a rich collection of fossils underneath the Gobi Desert, including the first fossilized dinosaur eggs. As great as the discovery was, he also started the practice of exporting the fossils and auctioning them to private collectors. It also goes into why private collectors should leave fossils for scientific study and that harmful ways in which they are often smuggled from other countries.

You can listen to this unique conservation story and read a transcript on the official website for the Overheard at National Geographic podcast.