As unusual as a man arriving at O’Hare International Airport from Ivory Coast with 32 pounds of rat meat might seem, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman said Wednesday it was far from a remarkable sight for customs agents.
“We see meats of all kinds,” spokesman Steve Bansbach said.
It’s not certain what type of rat meat was confiscated June 26, but rodents such as marsh cane rats, also known as grasscutters, are eaten in West African countries including Ghana, according to the sustainable agriculture group Heifer International.
“Bushmeat is a specialty now because as cities grow, it’s more rare,” said James McCann, a professor of African ecological and agricultural history at Boston University, referring to meat from animals living in the wild. “It’s a cultural engagement with a historical diet.”
McCann said the rodent meat might have been cane rat, which is sometimes prepared in stews in parts of West Africa. Bushmeat dishes tend to be reserved for special occasions like weddings, he added.
In Chicago, customs agents frequently seize meats like pork and bushmeat that travelers try to bring into the country, Bansbach said.
In May, agents discovered four pieces of wood, 2 pounds of eggplant, 11 pounds of antelope meat and 3 pounds of “nonhuman primate meat” from within the luggage of a passenger from the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the Customs Service’s Chicago field office Twitter account.
Last month, agents found prohibited duck and chicken products hidden in a box among individually wrapped pieces of bread.
In March, K-9 dog Bettie helped agents discover a thermos stuffed with 2 pounds of pork belonging to a passenger on a flight from China.
Agents often seize plants and fruit, in addition to various kinds of meat, Bansbach said.
In April, K-9 Bettie identified a suitcase full of vegetables, including 16 heads of bug-infested spinach, various kinds of lettuce, seven onions, three eggplants and a radish.