- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2007

An airline passenger with a marmoset tucked under his hat may face criminal charges of smuggling the monkey into the United States from Peru in violation of health laws and an international treaty.

The passenger got away with the monkey business on his first flight aboard Spirit Airlines into Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Tuesday. It wasn’t until the marmoset began monkeying around on the male passenger”s ponytail during the trip to LaGuardia International Airport in New York that the hitchhiker was exposed.

“Fortunately, it was not a security issue, and neither of them posed a threat to aviation,” said Chris White, spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, who referred further questions to Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

A spokesman there said that the passenger did not declare the monkey before entering the country and that fines and penalties may be assigned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pending an investigation.

“We don’t know the full details of the hat trick,” said Zachary Mann, spokesman and special agent for the CBP. “We don’t know if the monkey was asleep in a rat’s nest of hair under the [passenger’s] hat or if it was drugged.”

Sandy Cleva, spokeswoman for the wildlife service, said that the marmoset is protected under the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species and that a permit is required for importation to a zoo or research facility.

“You cannot import a live primate for a personal pet and that is a public-health law, that is an outright prohibition,” said Miss Cleva.

Officials are investigating to see whether wildlife charges are warranted, said Miss Cleva, adding that the monkey will be held in quarantine until tests determine whether it is carrying any diseases.

Alison Russell, spokeswoman for Spirit Airlines, said the “monkey became visible from underneath the hat during the flight.”

“When he came out from under the hat, he started clinging to the passenger”s ponytail,” Miss Russell said.

One government official said a nearby passenger asked the man whether he was aware that there was a monkey on his head.

“Apparently, he is a very tiny monkey,” Miss Russell said.

The flight crew reported the incident to the ground crew, and the passenger and his monkey were greeted by officials from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, detained and questioned.

Miss Russell said the airline is cooperating with the government agencies in the investigation and referred other questions to the Port Authority, which did not return a call for comment.