- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2002

ANCHORAGE, Alaska Wildlife inspectors at Alaska's largest airport have seen it all, from the traveler who tried to hide a monkey under her big hat to the woman who had a bear's gall bladder stuffed in her bra.
"I've almost become numb," said Chris Andrews, one of Alaska's three U.S. Fish and Wildlife inspection officers assigned to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. "When I see a monkey-skull ashtray I say, 'Oh, another monkey-skull ashtray.'"
Inspectors at the airport, a hub for flights to Russia and the Far East, have confiscated boxes of sea coral, pool cues with inlaid ivory from African elephants, and vials of bear gall bladder extract, which is believed by some to relieve high blood pressure, impotence and rheumatism.
Many of the contraband items are folk remedies and other exotica from Asia, such as the monkey-skull ashtrays from Thailand.
Mr. Andrews and his two colleagues typically check about 65 shipments each day at the biggest cargo airport in the United States, which ranks sixth nationwide for wildlife shipments, and make about one seizure probably a small fraction of the illegal wildlife that is getting through.
The items seized are illegal outright or require permits to possess. Mr. Andrews said most travelers do not realize they are breaking the law, but plenty of other violators know it.
Penalties range from confiscation of the illegal item to a $100,000 fine and a year in jail.
Some of the airport contraband is on display in a glass case outside Mr. Andrews' office. Among the curiosities: a woman's leopard coat from Taiwan, a crocodile-head purse from Southeast Asia and a guitar from Mexico made from the shell of a sea turtle.
Mr. Andrews pulls a cardboard box from under his desk and holds up two bottles filled with a pale yellow liquid. One has a cobra coiled in the bottom, from Vietnam. The other has two decomposing iguanas and is from China. The "wine" is a popular novelty item with tourists.
"The tequila worm I can handle, but this is awful," customs officer Sue Gadomski said as she shrank from the bottles on Mr. Andrews' desk. Miss Gadomski works closely with Mr. Andrews and his colleagues.
Inspection officer Mike Kiehn pulls a stuffed cobra, poised as if ready to strike, off a top shelf. The item was taken from a tourist coming from Thailand. "When the animal is killed, the venom becomes solidified, but if you punctured yourself, it could be lethal," Mr. Kiehn said.
Wildlife inspectors must be familiar with numerous laws and treaties protecting threatened or endangered species of flora and fauna. They receive a five-week training course at a federal installation in Glynco, Ga., to help them identify what is legal and what isn't. They take a two-hour course just to help identify the five types of ivory.
Inspectors use an ultraviolet lamp to distinguish between ivory and plastic. Ivory will reflect the light; plastic will absorb it.
Inspectors also look for false compartments and holes drilled in carry-on luggage. People have been known to drug birds with alcohol to keep them quiet and place them in the hidden compartments. The compartments are also a popular way of smuggling live reptiles from Southeast Asia.
An airport custodian once found a hummingbird stuffed in a pack of cigarettes.

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