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Despite pleas for a stiff sentence from prosecutors and primatologist Jane Goodall, a New York woman who was convicted of illegally importing 720 pounds of baboon, endangered green monkey and warthog “bushmeat” into the country was sentenced Friday to probation.
Mamie Manneh (also known as Mamie Jefferson) first came to the attention of authorities in 2006 when inspectors at JFK discovered “skulls, limbs and torsos of non-human primate species” in a shipment which was supposed to contain smoked fish and african dresses. A visit two days later from U.S. Fish and Wildlife uncovered a small hairy arm which she identified as “monkey” which she received as “as a gift from God in heaven.”
Later, she backed down on the claim that she didn’t import the meat and claimed that eating it was a religious expression which should be protected by the first amendment. Fellow congregants from Christ Memorial Christian Church on Staten Island and a number of academic experts supported her, although her minister didn’t.
Prosecution witnesses testified that the importation of primate meat could lead to the spread of diseases, including Ebola, measles, tuberculosis, monkeypox and retroviruses similar to HIV. Importation of green monkey and baboon meat is barred under the Convention on International Trade in the Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, a treaty which 170 countries are signed on to. A wildlife expert testified during the trial that monkeys are harvested by poisoning their watering holes with pesticide.
To complicate matters, Manneh, who has 11 prior arrests, spent two of the years that the trial has dragged on in prison for running over a woman she suspected of sleeping with her husband with an SUV in a theater parking lot.
In the end, the judge decided that if Manneh did have a religious imperative to eat monkey meat, she could have pursued it by legal means. When barring Manneh’s motion to dismiss the case, Chief Judge Raymond J. Dearie held that it was not her importation of monkey but her bypassing the law to hide her importation of monkey which was the problem.
Dearie finally decided on probation based on what he said were Manneh’s mental issues and her importance to her children, variously numbered as “eight and raising three others” (the Staten Island Advance), “nine” (the News), “eight” (the News), “nine of Jefferson’s and two young relatives’ (Religious News Blog), and eleven (the AP and the judge).
Goodall, who is active in the international fight against bushmeat, said in her sentencing letter to Judge Dearie that a harsh sentence for Manneh would show US leadership against the “devastating impact unregulated consumption of wildlife is having on species populations in Africa.” It didn’t work.