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Nuts and Bolts: Monkey Business at the Airport

By Ed O'Keefe

Have you heard the one about the dead monkey in the luggage at Dulles International Airport? Last Friday afternoon, a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) canine alerted officers to a suspicious-smelling piece of luggage owned by a traveler from the Central African Republic. Inside the bag, officers discovered three charred monkeys, ten pounds of deer meat and ten pounds of dried beef.

Nuts and Bolts

"While we in the United States may find the prospect of dining on charred monkey corpses as peculiar, we respect that certain cultures consider this a traditional delicacy," said Christopher Hess, the CBP's director of the Port of Washington.

CBP frequently works with other agencies on incidents like this one, depending on the size and scope of the issue. In this case, the deer and beef were destroyed by CBP while the charred monkeys were taken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for further inspection.

CBP agriculture specialists use dogs to sniff for products in the bags of international travelers that might threaten the nation's agriculture. More passive sniff dogs -- usually beagles -- will simply sit down when they smell something suspicious while more aggressive dogs -- usually bloodhounds -- bark when they smell something odd.

If a bag requires further inspection, it gets checked by agricultural specialists that have broad knowledge of insects, plants and meats and the rules governing the importation of such things. The more than 2,000 agriculture specialists were moved from the Department of Agriculture to CBP when it was created in 2003.

In the case of the charred monkeys, agriculture specialists handed them over to CDC, which is tasked with closely examining such remains for infectious diseases and other threats. CDC does so at its 20 quarantine stations nationwide. Through the years CDC has handled tens of thousands of situations similar to the one at Dulles. Those same quarantine stations deal with sick passengers, monitor the health of immigrants and refugees entering through airports, and can assist in other emergencies.

While this latest "monkey business" may seem odd to some, it's nothing new to thousands of employees guarding U.S. airports. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, the CDC inspected the charred monkeys and CBP incinerated them.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | December 9, 2008; 3:54 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments  
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