Miami freight shipper Robert Matson Conyers was charged with animal cruelty yesterday after a tri-continental shipment of monkeys turned into a cannibalistic simian catastrophe.
Guyanese animal supplier Akhtar Hussain hired Conyers to help ship 25 monkeys -- 14 marmosets, five white-fronted capuchins, and six squirrel monkeys -- to a buyer in Thailand in 2008. In theory, the whole deal was legal. But when customs officials in L.A. opened the crates, they found the primates had gone all Donner Party on one another.
Conyers shipped the animals from Miami to L.A., where they were then shipped to Guangzhou, China. But Chinese officials sent the monkey crates back to California because of documentation problems.
What do you get when you put dozens of wild animals in small crates with little or no food or water for days on end? Well, death and destruction.
Customs officials in L.A. discovered that 15 of the monkeys had died en route. The ten survivors had resorted to eating their crate mates in order to stay alive.
L.A. prosecutors have charged both Conyers and Hussain with ten counts of animal cruelty for the botched shipment, but Hussain remains at large in South America. Each defendant could face up to five years in jail and a fine of $200,000.
Conyers turned himself in to L.A. authorities Wednesday. But the Tamiami resident tells Riptide that the case against him is laughable. He says it was L.A.-based company MC Cargo that shipped the monkeys to China, not him, and the real culprit in the monkey mishap is China Southern Airlines.
"They are the ones who left them on the tarmac for two and a half days without food or water," Conyers contests. He says L.A. prosecutors tried to cut a deal with him to plead guilty to one count of animal cruelty and donate money to the ASPCA, but he refused.
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Conyers says he intends to sue Erin Dean, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent in L.A., over the ordeal. He claims she pressured him to pay $15,000 to treat the surviving animals. When he refused, she took the case to prosecutors.
"It's really bothering me," he says, fearing the case will hurt his shipping business.
One capuchin was euthanized by L.A. Zoo veterinarians. The nine remaining primates are recuperating at San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park.