BOSTON (CBS) – From elephant tusks to jars of bird spit, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have recently stopped some bizarre things from coming into Logan Airport from other countries. WBZ-TV’s I-Team found some of them could pose a serious health threat.
“We find illegal wildlife on a weekly basis,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife inspector Jennifer Irving, holding up a jar. “These are dried seahorses,” she said. “They’ll grind them up and put them in tea.”
What’s the strangest thing they’ve ever seen? “Things like alligators and crocodiles,” said Irving.
“There was a full goat skinned and frozen,” said Supervisory CBP Officer Robert LaVita. “It scared me.”
With Boston starting to screen passengers from China for coronavirus, there’s long been a focus on seizing potentially contaminated items passengers bring from overseas, as well.
The I-Team got a behind-the-scenes look at some odd items Customs officials have found.
“This is a package of bird’s nest soup worth hundreds of dollars,” said Irving. The nests, made by swift birds, came in on a flight from Asia.
“The hard crust is from their spit,” she said, holding up a jar of the bird saliva. In some cultures, it’s thought to be an aphrodisiac and an immune-system booster.
“They can distill out the spit from the nest and have a liquid like this.” The CDC says it can be dangerous. “There could be some bird diseases, avian flu,” said Irving.
She held up a water bottle made from a cattle hoof. “It’s coming from a country where there would be some cow diseases such as foot and mouth disease,” said Irving.
One passenger packed a giant stick of salami from Spain, “which is pork products. There’s swine flu,” said Irving.
Those who study infectious diseases say focusing on points of entry like Logan is important.
“Most of the travel into the Unites States these days happens by air, and so if people are coming in from an area in the world where there is an epidemic, then screening at the airport can make sense,” said Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Even something as simple as a piece of fruit can be a carrier. Within just a few hours, U.S. Customs had collected a bucket of overseas fruit at Logan Airport the day the I-Team stopped by. It was displayed along with an array of strange discoveries.
“This is a whole tusk,” said Irving, pointing to elephant ivory. It was next to a whale tooth, along with medicine that claims to have tiger ingredients, sperm-whale caviar and a Tibetan antelope shawl.
“Five to ten animals slaughtered, typically, to make one shawl,” said Irving.
During a typical day last year, Customs and Border Protection seized nearly 5,000 plants, meat and animal products at U.S. points of entry. It’s usually an innocent mistake, but passengers caught hiding prohibited items could face hundreds of dollars in fines.