ANNAPOLIS – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seized ivory that former Washington Mayor Marion Barry and his wife had shipped to America from a recent trip to Africa, officials said.
Ivory imports have been banned since 1989, the year after Congress passed the African Elephant Conservation Act to help combat poaching.
The confiscated items were gifts from heads of state and villages that the Barrys visited during a goodwill trip to the Ivory Coast and the Republic of Cameroon in November according to Raymone Bain, the Barrys’ publicist. The purpose of the visit was to discuss foreign relations, trade and tourism.
Barry, who left office in January after four terms as mayor, has said he wants to become an international trade broker, according to published reports.
This is not Barry’s first time in trouble. He served a six-month sentence in prison after being caught on videotape smoking crack cocaine in a downtown hotel room with model Rasheeda Moore in 1990, while serving his third mayoral term.
Although the ivory items were confiscated, the matter may not be over.
The case is ongoing, according to Patricia Fisher, public affairs specialist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She refused to comment further.
“I can’t confirm or deny that there’s an investigation going on,” said Spence Conley, assistant regional director of external affairs for U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Northeast region. Conley also refused to elaborate.
Barry and his wife, Cora Masters Barry, were aware that some of the gifts they received included ivory, according to Bain. But, she said, they did not know what was in the confiscated box because others packed the items and shipped them. She said many of the gifts were sent to the Barrys’ hotel, which boxed the presents and sent them to America.
“They were given a number of gifts…that were packed up for them and boxed,” Bain said. They “didn’t think about whether (the gifts) were ivory or not.”
She said the Barrys never saw some gifts because they were shipped directly to the United States.
“They weren’t trying to sneak anything in. If they had been, they wouldn’t have sent them through Customs,” Bain said. She said they gave no resistance when told they couldn’t bring the items into the country.
“They said, `OK.’ They didn’t raise a fuss about it. They weren’t trying to hide anything,” she said.
Bain said she is not aware of any further controversy. She said other items that were in the box, such as dolls, cloth, beads and dresses, were returned.
Since laws protecting elephants were passed in the late 1980s, there has been a dramatic decrease in the import of ivory, according to Craig Hoover, program officer for TRAFFIC North America, a wildlife trade-monitoring program of World Wildlife Fund.
“When it comes to wildlife regulations, there’s nothing more complex than the regulations surrounding ivory and elephants,” Hoover said. “But people have gotten the idea that elephants are very much a protected and endangered species and no trade is allowed.”