FOSTER CITY (CBS SF) — A Peninsula couple on safari in Africa ended up spending 3 days in a Tanzanian prison, facing a 20-year sentence for poaching. After spending $60,000 on bribes and fines they are finally home, thanks to the intervention of a local Congresswoman.
The walls of John and Linda Grant’s Foster City home are covered with photos of lion cubs, penguins and other animals they’ve enjoyed seeing in their travels. They are world travelers, active in various international causes. They say they don’t hunt, much less poach, but they were charged with poaching at the end of a safari in January.
Grant knew enough to ask while shopping at a South African souvenir shop, whether the carved giraffe bone he liked was legal. He was assured, in that country, it was. The bone was about 15-18 inches long and had a troop of elephants carved into its side.
Little did Grant know, in Tanzania the bone would land him and his wife in jail. The giraffe is Tanzania’s national animal. Poaching them carries a mandatory 20-year prison sentence. Even showing receipts proving the souvenir was purchased legally in South Africa wasn’t enough to get them out.
A local in the tourism business was the first to help them, paying a judge $5000 before even meeting them.
“When he (the judge) looked at us, he kinda did that comic double-take.” said Grant. “Here’s a 72-year-old guy and his wife – he was like, ‘these are the criminals and the poachers?’”
Grant is a retired dentist. He has arthritis in his feet, and can hardly walk.
“I’m gonna be tramping through the Serengeti to shoot a giraffe and somehow be able to cut its leg off? It was just absurd,” he laughed.
Grant did manage to place a phone call to a friend on the City Council back home.
“He said, ‘now who is this?’ — he was probably thinking it could be someone with a lost passport.”
So the friend asked Grant to prove his identity by telling him the name of his dogs.
“I said ‘Buster’ and he immediately called Jackie’s office.”
Congresswoman Jackie Speier calls what happened to the Grants outrageous.
“They had spent over $60,000. Now mind you, they did nothing wrong, I’m really livid about this,” said Speier. “You don’t treat people like that. We respect their laws, but this was not a violation of any of their laws.”
Home for 2 months now, the Grants still have trouble sleeping. And while they have been to more than 100 countries and want to travel more, for now, they plan to stay inside the U.S.
“You appreciate the United States, the freedoms we have,” said wife Linda. “You have no idea how much we should appreciate that until you’re in a situation like we were.”
When asked what he learned from this, her husband laughed, “Well, first of all… never, ever go back to Tanzania.”