An elderly American couple say their African safari came to a horrifying halt in Tanzania, where they were accused of poaching and thrown in prison: all because of a souvenir they bought in South Africa.
Jon and Linda Grant say they were jailed for three days, faced a 20-year sentence and $150,000 USD (327 million TSH) in fines after they brought a legally purchased South African souvenir into Tanzania.
The well-traveled couple had purchased an intricately carved giraffe bone in South Africa in December 2015, entered Tanzania without incident but when leaving via Kilimanjaro International Airport, they were arrested and charged with poaching Tanzania’s national animal.
“Right from the beginning, everyone said ‘we’ve never heard of anything like this. This is crazy. You’re being charged with poaching for having a souvenir in your suitcase,’” says Jon Grant, 72, who was hospitalized after the ordeal.
Speaking to the San Mateo Daily Journal, Grant says he was initially not allowed to call a lawyer or even the American embassy. Requests for food and even his medication were also initially denied.
Grant says it took $30,000 USD in lawyer fees and various bribes to get the judge to reduce the sentence to ‘attempting to export an animal product without a certificate,’ which carried a further $30,000 USD fine.
The Grant’s local congresswoman, Jackie Speier, says the Grant’s were targeted by authorities because it looked like they were rich American tourists and called for America to re-evaluate the aid money it gives to Tanzania.
The American Embassy in Dar es Salaam did not comment on the specifics of the Grant’s case, but reminded travelers that exporting any animal product requires an export certificate.
Edited at 18:50 on March 24 to clarify grammar in the second sentence.