They looked like normal drums, or at least normal drums that came from Ethiopia.
Made of wood and leather, they were part of a shipment being inspected by federal agents at the Port of Houston late last week.
An agent thought six of the drums seemed heavier than normal; he tapped on them and got only a dull thud.
Agents soon discovered the reason why: The drums were filled with $185,000 worth of elephant ivory, definitely not something you want federal agents to catch you smuggling.
And definitely not something they catch you doing all too often, says Paula Rivera, Public Affairs Liaison for the Houston office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
"It is rare that we get it or see it, and it's even more rare that it was in such quantity that came in," she tells Hair Balls. "Normally, if you do get shipments like this, it's maybe a couple of pieces. But this had a large number of pieces concealed inside the drums."
CBP didn't total or weigh the number of pieces -- just sent it to an appraiser to get the value.
Even though the agents came out with six-figures' worth of ivory, they were actually looking for something much more prosaic.
"It was concealed in things that could have held pests or any kind of soil, which is what they were actually looking for," Rivera says.
Nice try, smugglers. Although we guess you getting caught doesn't much help the elephants you maimed.
-- Richard Connelly
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