NEW YORK — To shoppers browsing in Midtown Manhattan, the objects might have resembled curios brought home by globe-trotters of a bygone age: bone-white carvings fashioned into jewelry, animal figurines, and other gifts.
In reality, they were made of ivory from the tusks of Asian and African elephants killed by poachers, authorities said.
Following one of the largest seizures of illicit ivory sold in New York, two jewelers and their stores pleaded guilty Thursday to marketing what prosecutors said was more than $2 million worth of the goods.
‘‘We’re here today because poachers of endangered species, who profit from wildlife crime, should not have a market in Manhattan,’’ District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said at a news conference, displaying hundreds of seized rings, bangles, necklaces, statuettes, and toys, only a small part of the 1-ton seizure. One specialist said that the items on display alone had probably cost 25 animals their lives.
The case reflects an unsettling trend. Last year, more than 24 tons of ivory were seized around the world — the product of an estimated 2,500 elephants — making it the worst year for elephant poaching since an international ban on commercial ivory trading began in 1989, according to TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network.
From 2002 to 2006, 4 of every 10 dead elephants were killed by poachers, but today, poachers are responsible for 8 of 10 elephant deaths in Africa, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Prosecutors said the ivory seized in Manhattan came from two shops: Raja Jewels and New York Jewelry Mart.
Mukesh Gupta, owner of Raja Jewels, pleaded guilty before Judge Larry Stephen of Manhattan Criminal Court to one count of illegal commercialization of wildlife; his company pleaded guilty to two counts.
The other businessman, Johnson Jung-Chien Lu, pleaded guilty to one count of the same charge, as did his store, New York Jewelry Mart.