Primate skull, tooth necklace confiscated at Dulles

U.S. Customs and Border Protection released this image of a primate skull topped with feathers, which was found in the baggage of a Russian traveler at Dulles International Airport in May. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

WASHINGTON – Customs agents have confiscated several odd animal specimens from international travelers at Dulles International Airport lately.

Customs and Border Protection officials say they confiscated a primate skull and a necklace made of a primate’s teeth along with a bucket full of dead animals since mid May.

Typically the agency confiscates prohibited meat and fruit from passengers but the agency called the three discoveries as “really unusual.”

On May 22, the primate skull was found in the baggage of a passenger from Russia, who claimed she bought the item in Togo as a “good luck” charm. Officials say the uncleaned skull and accompanying feathers could be carrying Ebola, HIV, monkey pox, and avian diseases.

The skull was ordered to be destroyed.

On May 24, a traveler from the South Sudan brought a bucket containing small dead animals including bats, shrews, dormice, rats, mice and a mongoose. The animals were described as scientific research samples but were not properly packaged for transport. And the traveler did not have documents that would allow the specimens to be imported.

The dead animals were held so permits could be obtained and the samples were repacked for shipment. They were released July 3.

And on June 18, a traveler from Gabon was found with a necklace made from the teeth of a mandrill, a small primate related to the baboon. The traveler told customs officials that he is a voodoo priest and that the necklace was used in rituals.

However the teeth potentially carried diseases like HIV, Ebola and monkey pox and was ordered to be destroyed.

Federal law bans foreign animal products to be imported to the U.S. from certain countries because the products could carry exotic diseases that could infect American livestock.

“Our desire is for travelers to know what products are prohibited from the U.S. so that they don’t have to surrender their spiritual or good luck tokens. Visiting CBP’s and USDA’s websites are a good start,” says Stephen Kremer, acting port director at Dulles, in a statement.

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