Eating Monkey Meat

4th June 2010

The tribal customs of West African immigrants have become the focus of an unusual criminal case over monkey meat smuggling, and touching on issues of religious freedom, infectious diseases and wildlife preservation.

CNN reports that the case "appears to be the first of its kind relating to that uniquely African product," defense attorney Jan Rostal wrote in a pending motion to dismiss. "Unfortunately, it represents the sort of clash of cultural and religious values inherent in the melting pot that is America."

At the center of the case in federal court is an African woman with nine kids living in New York, after federal inspectors at JFK Airport got hold of a shipment of 12 cardboard boxes from Guinea addressed to her.


The flight manifest showed that the shipment contained African dresses and smoked fish.


Underneath the smoked fish, the inspectors found what West Africans refer to as bushmeat: "skulls, limbs and torsos of nonhuman primate species" plus the hoof and leg of a small antelope, according to court papers.


Three days later, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents were at the woman's door, where she told them she ran a smoked fish importing business.


CNN reports that according to the agents, she initially lied about ordering any bushmeat from Africa or ever eating it while in the United States.  "But after she consented to a search, the agents came across a tiny, hairy arm hidden in her garage."


"Monkey," she explained, claiming the arm was sent to her out of the blue "as a gift from God in heaven."


Federal prosecutors are charging the African woman with smuggling charges that accuse her of violating import procedures.


A criminal complaint cited evidence that the illegal importation of bushmeat encourages the slaughter of protected wild animals.


More ominously, the complaint warned of "the potential health risks to humans linking bushmeat to diseases like Lassa fever, Ebola, HIV, SARS and monkeypox."


CNN reports that her defense attorney Rostal has countered by accusing the government of "picking on a poorly educated immigrant."


The lawyer contends it is the woman's "inability" to "grasp" Western attitudes and highly technical regulations regarding bushmeat.


The woman cites religious freedom and uses the monkey meat in a ceremony.


At age 7, "I was baptized and they used that for the baptizing ceremony," she told a judge.


The same woman is already serving a two-year sentence in state prison for trying to run over a woman she suspected of sleeping with her husband, Zangar Jefferson.


If convicted of the federal charges she faces up to five more years in prison and deportation.


"The government's taking a woman away from her children," complained Jefferson, who's struggling to raise the children alone. "It's very depressing, especially with the holidays right around the corner.


"Baptisms, Easter, Christmas, weddings -- all are occasions for eating monkey, the woman's  supporters said in a sworn statement filed with the court.


"We eat bushmeat," they said, "for our souls."