By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Customs officials searching the bags of an African man who flew into Dulles International Airport on Friday discovered three charred monkeys in his luggage, as well as deer meat and dried beef, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said yesterday.
The man was traveling from Bangui in Central African Republic, a small country north of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He admitted he was carrying the meat, a common food in parts of Africa, after a trained dog alerted authorities to the man's bag, customs spokesman Steve Sapp said.
The monkey carcasses, inadmissible under U.S. law, were confiscated and are being inspected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; monkeys can easily introduce infectious diseases to humans, Sapp said. The other meat was destroyed, and the man was allowed to enter the country without penalty, Sapp said.
Foreigners visiting the United States sometimes try to bring with them exotic foods that are part of their native cuisines, especially around the holidays. But this was "a first for many of us," Sapp said.
Primates are a common food source in the Central African region, said Heather E. Eves, director of the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force, a nonprofit that researches the trade in African "bushmeat," the flesh of wild animals. Eves said that the monkeys' charred appearance comes from the animals' being smoked and that the meat is typically used to make stew.
Primates are also known to carry diseases such as monkeypox, HIV/AIDS and Ebola, she said.
The traveler was not identified because he was not arrested, Sapp said. Foreigners who attempt to conceal agricultural products from customs officials can face fines, usually about $300, Sapp said.
"If they're not trying to hide anything from us, they're not being combative . . . we let them go on their way," Sapp said.
Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.