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Seahorses, snakes and prohibited pork products seized at Dulles airport

Uncertified pork products from Vietnam are prohibited by the USDA due to the potential introduction of African swine fever and swine vesicular disease.

August 24, 2023

3 Min Read
CBP

There’s never a dull moment for U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists at Washington Dulles International Airport. Two recent seizures from travelers arriving from Vietnam helped to illustrate that point.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife inspectors encountered some unusual and prohibited products recently from travelers who arrived from Vietnam to Washington Dulles International Airport. The products included snakes and snake oil, sea horses and snail ointment, and the potential introduction of the dangerous African swine fever.

The first traveler, who arrived on Aug. 1 and was destined to Fairfax, Virginia, was referred to a secondary baggage examination. CBP agriculture specialists and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service inspectors discovered prohibited pork, but also found 77 dry seahorses, five jars of snail ointment, and five dead snakes.

The import of the seahorses, snakes, and snail ointment without the necessary permits or documentation violated several laws and regulations, including provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and the Lacey Act.

Additionally, uncertified pork products from Vietnam are prohibited by the USDA due to the potential introduction of ASF and swine vesicular disease.

The second traveler, who arrived on Aug. 4 and was destined to San Francisco, was referred to a secondary baggage examination. CBP agriculture specialists and USFWS wildlife inspectors discovered four prohibited pork products and 50 small boxes of a commercial herbal liquid medicine that listed its ingredients as snake oil.

The USFWS regulates the importation of wildlife, including snake oil and other wildlife parts and products.

CBP agriculture specialists seized all prohibited products and turned them over to USFWS inspectors. The USFWS investigation continues.

“Though we may consider some animal-based products to be unusual, people in other parts of the world may consider them to be normal. However, travelers visiting the United States should understand that Customs and Border Protection is committed to protecting our nation’s agricultural industries and enforcing our wildlife and import laws which may result in the seizure of their animal-based products,” said Christine Waugh, CBP’s Acting Area Port Director for the Area Port of Washington, D.C. “CBP agriculture specialists continue to work side-by-side with our U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partners to educate travelers by holding them accountable when they arrive with illegal or prohibited products.”

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and the U.S. Endangered Species Act regulate the international trade in wildlife and animal-based products.

“Travelers can help protect wildlife and themselves by knowing what they are allowed to bring with them, whether traveling to or from the United States. All wildlife items that are imported to or exported from the U.S. — parts, products, or live animals — must be accompanied by proper documentation and declared,” said Ryan Noel, Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement in the Northeast Region. “We are grateful for our close collaboration with partners like U.S. Customs and Border Protection to help prevent the exploitation of our fish and wildlife resources and safeguard public health through vigilance at our ports of entry.”

According to CITES, illicit wildlife trade remains an international concern and is the leading cause pushing certain species to extinction.

The international trade in wildlife is estimated to be in the billions of dollars. Animals and plants are being exploited for a wide variety of consumer goods, including live and taxidermied specimens, food products, jewelry, clothing and accessories, musical instruments, tourist souvenirs, and many more products. CITES is one of the major international cooperation agreements that regulates lawful wildlife trade with the goal to safeguard wildlife from over-exploitation.

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