Californians protest at Tanzanian Embassy over arrest, $62,000 in fines for transporting giraffe bone

Foster City residents Jon and Linda Grant stood outside the Tanzanian Embassy in Washington on Tuesday, warning others of their experience in the country and pleading with the Tanzanian ambassador to meet with them.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) and a handful of staffers joined the Grants, waving signs and speaking to passersby.

Their plight began with the purchase of an unusual souvenir at a game reserve in South Africa last winter, an etched giraffe bone. They were assured it was legal to purchase and had no trouble entering the next country on their trip, Tanzania.

But when the couple went through security to leave, they were detained and sent to a Tanzanian jail. Their passports and belongings were seized. The charge was poaching: They were accused of killing the country's national animal.

It took the intervention of Speier and the U.S. ambassador to Tanzania before the charges were reduced to exporting a trophy without a permit and the retirees were allowed to come home. In total, the experience cost them $62,000 in fines, court fees and bribes. They even had to pay someone to fly from the South African souvenir shop with the original receipt.

When Speier and the couple tried to enter the embassy Tuesday, the door was barred.

"I've had to intercede on behalf of constituents in foreign countries before, but nothing like this," Speier said. "This really smacks of all kinds of illegal graft and bribery, and I think it's a warning to all American tourists: Beware."

Speier has asked more than 30 times for a meeting with the Tanzanian ambassador since early April, she said.

"I don't want another American tourist to be subject to this," Speier said. "What a nightmare."

The Grants also were scheduled to meet with State Department officials and House Foreign Affairs Committee staff while in Washington.

While the arrest occurred during a personal vacation, the couple have spent decades traveling around the world doing charity work, including a dozen trips to African countries to drop off wheelchairs or build wells or schools through the Foster City Rotary Club.

"We've given up travel. We'll never travel to Africa again," Jon Grant said. "It took the spark out of us to do that anymore."

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