Customs Agents Feared Ebola Risk At DC Airport From Voodoo Primate Jewelry

Patrick Howley Political Reporter
Font Size:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) authorities feared possible Ebola risks at Washington Dulles International Airport outside of the nation’s capital months before Ebola was diagnosed in the United States, despite federal government assurances that Ebola posed no serious threat to the country.

CBP, which is currently enforcing the federal government’s health screening program at airports, made specific reference to “the possible introduction of Ebola” from a voodoo priest carrying African primate jewelry through an airport more than two weeks before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) assured Americans that “Ebola poses no significant risk to U.S. public.”

CBP detailed its seizure of the voodoo primate jewelry in a July 15 press release entitled “CBP Encounters Unique Threats to America’s Agriculture at Washington Dulles.”

“A traveler from the African nation of Gabon arrived June 18 with a necklace made of mandrill teeth. A mandrill is a primate closely related to the baboon,” the release stated. “The passenger claimed to be a voodoo priest and he said he used the necklace for spiritual rituals. In consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), a decision was made July 3 to destroy the necklace due to the possible introduction of Ebola, HIV, monkey pox or other viruses or diseases.”

Less than three weeks later, on Aug. 1, CDC tweeted that “#Ebola poses no significant risk to US public. Only transmitted by contact with body fluids and only by someone w/ signs of illness.”

But CDC’s own published advice for humanitarian aid organizations acknowledges that Ebola can be spread through “contact with infected animals” and advises volunteers to “Avoid contact with animals (such as bats or monkeys) or with raw or undercooked meat.”

CBP’s July 15 press release made clear that the voodoo priest was not the only international passenger at Washington Dulles to recently trigger health alarms.

“On May 22, CBP officers discovered a primate skull in the baggage of a traveler from Russia,” the press release continued. “The skull was not cleaned, and it was topped by feathers that also were not cleaned. The passenger claimed she purchased the skull in Togo and that skull was a token of ‘good luck.’ In consultation with CDC and USFWS, a decision was made June 25 to destroy the skull for the same reason as the primate teeth necklace.”

“CBP agriculture specialists encountered a traveler who arrived from the South Sudan May 24 with scientific research samples contained inside a five gallon bucket,” the press release stated. “The bucket contained small dead animals, including six species of bats, shrews, dormice, rats, mice, and Mongoose. The traveler did not possess appropriate import documents, and the samples were not properly packed for transport…In collaboration with CDC, USFWS and U.S. Department of Agriculture, all appropriate permits were attained and the scientific samples were properly preserved for shipment; CBP subsequently released the samples July 3.”

Follow Patrick on Twitter