Customs agents seized an unusual item from an airline passenger arriving in Minneapolis last week from a vacation in Kenya: a small box containing giraffe feces.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection highlighted the intercepted excrement Thursday to draw awareness to the dangers of agricultural contamination and spread of disease among humans.
An unidentified Iowa woman declared the droppings when passing through customs on a return trip from an African safari. It caught agents by surprise.
“We were really a little shocked. We don’t normally get fecal material in. That’s not something that we see on a daily basis,” said Lauren Lewis, chief of agriculture for U.S. Customs and Border Protection at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. “Normally, we are inspecting a lot of fruits and vegetables and meats and plants that people are bringing back. So fecal material that people were intending to bring with them was an unusual declaration for us.”
Grow the Future of Public Media
MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!
Lewis said the woman told an officer that she planned to use the giraffe droppings in a necklace.
“Apparently when she is at home she makes jewelry out of moose droppings so when she saw giraffe droppings while on safari she thought that would be a unique addition to her craftwork I guess,” Lewis said.
The excrement was taken and destroyed by agriculture specialists. Customs and Border Protection officials say carrying fecal matter onto a plane and into the country poses risk to human health and livestock well-being. Lewis noted that Kenya has battled various forms of swine fever and foot and mouth disease.
Such items could have been brought in legitimately had the person obtained a permit and underwent import inspection.
Because the woman declared she was in possession of the box of droppings and readily abandoned it, she won’t face sanctions. Had she tried to sneak it past agents, she could have faced a penalty of $300 to $1,000.
Lewis said the woman expressed remorse.
“She did not intend to potentially affect U.S. agriculture in any way. This was just something that she did as a hobby,” Lewis said. “At home, she makes jewelry out of fecal material. So she was just, she just saw something that would be an interesting addition to her hobby. Unfortunately, it’s those innocuous importations that sometimes can have the biggest effect.”