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Earlier this month, US Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) intercepted a couple arriving from the Philippines who “claimed to be carrying pickled mango,” a US Customs and Border Protection spokesperson told The Points Guy.

According to a statement from the department, “inconsistencies” were identified in the travelers’ luggage when an agriculture specialist screened the bags. Upon opening the suitcase, 34 pieces of carved elephant ivory were discovered, along with carved warthog and hippopotamus tusks.

Inspectors from the US Fish and Wildlife service were alerted, and the entire collection — approximately 16 pounds of ivory — was seized.

(Photo: U.S. Customs & Border Patrol)
(Photo by US Customs & Border Protection)

For transporting items in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) agreement, the couple was fined $500.

“In this particular case,” the Customs and Border Protection spokesperson told TPG, “the couple did not initially declare the ivory. If an individual [purchased] ivory products at a time when it was legal, they can legally bring [them] into the US — if they have the proper documentation. This particular couple did not have documentation, therefore, the ivory was seized.”

(Photo: U.S. Customs & Border Patrol)
(Photo by US Customs & Border Protection)

If it strikes you as odd that a couple attempting to smuggle nearly 40 pieces of ivory across the US border was fined the same amount as a woman who left an apple from Delta in her bag, well, you’re not alone.

“Fines are based on a variety of factors,” the spokesperson explained. A separate spokesperson from the US Fish and Wildlife Service told The Points Guy that “a range of fines” can be issued for illegally importing (or attempting to import) items of this nature. It’s a “question for a judge to determine,” she added.

Though a $500 fine for trying to casually cross the border with undocumented and almost certainly illegal ivory may feel like an inadequate slap on the wrist, it’s worth noting that, as an additional penalty, the ivory — which was valued at $25,000 — was confiscated. The commandeered ivory pieces will be sent to the National Wildlife Property Repository, the “Seattle Times” reported, where they will either be displayed for educational purposes or destroyed.

Featured image courtesy of US Customs and Border Protection. 

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