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Walrus slaughter ring broken

A two-year federal undercover operation has broken up one the biggest illegal wildlife slaughters in modern Alaska history.

Drugs, savagely beheaded animals, traditional Eskimo lifestyles and tourist fancy for ivory all were intertwined in the case, which has rocked Alaska.

So far, 29 persons in Alaska _ both Eskimos and non-natives _ have been charged, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service says at least 80 more may be arrested as the result of the grisly massacre of protected walrus to provide ivory for the tourist trade.

Federal agents say that not only walrus tusks, but also polar bear hides, seal skins and sea otter furs were illegally marketed for cash and drugs.

Authorities described a loose ring of "buddies" that butchered animals illegally on the west and north coasts of Alaska, sold the valuable ivory and hides to undercover agents in Anchorage and then purchased marijuana and cocaine to take back to the lonely and isolated villages of bush Alaska.

As in other sensational crime cases recently, the charges are backed up with a videotape, which the Fish and Wildlife service said was taken by one of its agents in the course of a "sting" operation.

In the edited pictures, a group of Eskimo hunters in the Bering Sea approach an ice floe in their traditional skin boats. More than a half-dozen hunters stand off and open fire with rifles at close range into small herds of walrus. The shooting appears indiscriminate. The huge, bewhiskered beasts are shot where they lie basking in the air. Others are shot as they try to swim to safety.

The hunters then approach walrus carcasses, hack off the heads for ivory and roll the blubbery bodies into the cold sea. Untold other wounded animals flounder in the water and almost certainly perish.