Seng Her admits she smuggled elephant parts into U.S.

Asian elephants are an endangered species
Asian elephants are an endangered species
Photo: tiswango/Flickr

More than two years after U.S. Customs & Border Protection officials at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport found she was carrying elephant parts and dead birds when she got off a plane from Laos, Seng Her, 56, has pleaded guilty to trying to smuggle the items into the country.

Her wasn't indicted for the November 2007 until last December. The delay was caused by the length of time it took authorities to confirm, using DNA, that she was carrying parts of an Asian elephant -- an endangered species -- according to MPR. And the Strib's James Walsh digs into the story a little bit and narrates a cautionary tale of what can happen when two cultural healing traditions collide -- and how authorities have discovered a thriving black market in the Twin Cities for what, by western medicinal standards, would be considered non-traditional medicines: bear bile, tiger bone and more.

It wasn't that Her, 56, refused to admit she brought stuff into the country. She did, she said. She even admitted to doing it before, in November 2005.

But Her, who told the court she takes medication for headaches and other aches and pains, has used the animals for medicinal purposes -- even after being caught at the airport in the past. In fact, in May 2007, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials sent Her a letter telling her that what she had done was illegal, that the animals she had smuggled were endangered and that she was not allowed to bring them into the country.

The St. Paul woman faces the prospect of a maximum 20 years in prison, but according to a plea deal will likely face considerably less.

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