Calif. Couple Jailed in Africa After Buying Souvenir

They were told the carved giraffe bone was legal
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 23, 2016 8:44 AM CDT
A giraffe drinks at a watering hole at Melorani Safaris in Olifantsvallei, South Africa.   (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

(Newser) – A California couple on safari in Africa bought a souvenir that ended up being far more expensive than they could have imagined. Jon and Linda Grant picked up the souvenir, a 15- to 18-inch giraffe bone onto which a herd of elephants had been carved, at a game reserve in South Africa after being assured by the clerk that it was perfectly legal. That may have been the case in South Africa, but the Grants ran into trouble when the safari took them to Tanzania. They were jailed after being informed at the airport that the giraffe was Tanzania's national animal, reports ABC7. Anti-poaching officials were called to the scene, and the Grants were suddenly facing a 20-year sentence and a $150,000 fine.

Eventually, the charges were reduced to failure to have an export permit, which carries a still-hefty $30,000 fine. "They said, 'Are you willing to pay it?'" Jon Grant, a 72-year-old retired dentist, tells KTVU. "We said, 'Absolutely.' Cost us $30,000 for buying [the] souvenir plus another $30,000 in bribes to get out of the country." Local Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who helped get the original charges reduced, thinks this was likely more than a mix-up—that the Grants were targeted as wealthy Americans. "This is pretty egregious," she tells ABC7, adding that US officials should be on the lookout for a pattern and that American tourists should be on alert. The Grants, meanwhile, "never knew" they could "be that afraid." (The UK wants Joan of Arc's ring back over an export licensing issue.)

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