Giraffe bone proves costly for retired Bay Area dentist

A Foster City couple accused of wildlife poaching in Tanzania is home after three weeks under arrest in Africa earlier this year.

Jon and Linda Grant took a cruise that started in Cape Town, South Africa, that took them to a game reserve near Durban, South Africa.

At the game reserve, they stopped at a curio shop where Jon spotted a 15- to 18-inch giraffe bone with a herd of elephants carved on it.

He said he was interested in the bone because he hadn’t seen anything like it and thought it might look good on his desk at home. Jon Grant is a retired dentist who’s traveled to 132 countries on seven continents.

He said the first thing he asked the shop clerk was:

“Is that legal?”

The clerk said yes, and told Grant all the laws have to do with ivory. “That sounded logical,” he said. But he hadn’t thought the bone might be illegal in another country.

Later in the trip the couple flew from Kenya to Tanzania for a 6-day safari. On the way out of the country, a baggage checker asked Jon to remove the bone from his luggage.

Jon told the checker what it was and where he bought it. The checker examined it while the couple’s luggage was put on a plane.

But the next thing he knew his plane tickets had been canceled and the couple had their luggage back.

Jon said he was told:

“The giraffe is our national animal.”

The couple was taken away in a van and spent two nights in jail and one night in prison. They faced 20 years in prison and a $150,000 fine for poaching. Jon said:

“It was so out of line with what we did.”

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, has a somewhat different interpretation.

Speier thinks they were targeted because they were Americans and they looked like they had money.

Getting out of Tanzania cost the Grants $62,000, little of they will get back even though American officials intervened.

Speier said the U.S. gives millions in aid to Tanzania each year.

She said U.S. officials should reevaluate that aid or at least have a direct conversation about how local customs agents handle Americans being processed through their system.

She said the problem faced by the Grants may be a pattern that has developed.

If there is a pattern, U.S. officials need to reevaluate the U.S.’s relationship with Tanzania, according to Speier.

Future travelers need to be alerted too, Speier said.

Before the Grants were able to come home they had to pay $2,000 to have a person carry an original receipt from South Africa to a Tanzanian courtroom to prove where they bought the bone. Spier said:

“This is pretty egregious.”