Airport officials in Las Vegas were startled when they discovered a dead cougar in a passenger's luggage. The man carrying the corpse reportedly lawfully hunted the animal, sparing everyone involved a bizarre day in court.
On Dec. 26, a traveler was stopped at the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas after a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent found that he had a dead cougar stored in his luggage, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports.
TSA agents held the man, whose name has not been disclosed, as they worked to determine whether he had legally obtained the animal carcass. The traveler pointed to an official Utah State Fish and Game tag on the cougar, indicating that he had received state sanction to kill the big cat.
"It is not a crime to transport game that is legal to possess via airlines," McCarran airport spokesperson Melissa Nunnery said. "However, airlines reserve the right to tell passengers they do not want to transport certain items."
The traveler ultimately was required to ship his game to his destination, likely sparing fellow plane passengers from flying with a macabre souvenir.
Nevada Division of Wildlife spokesperson Doug Nielsen said that his organization would not involve itself in the matter given that the traveler appeared to have hunted the cougar lawfully.
"As long as that's a legally harvested animal, we don't have any problem with them passing through Nevada," Nielsen said.
In August 2015, several prominent airlines banned travelers from transporting big-game trophies such as buffalo, elephants, lions or rhinos. The policy was prompted by international outrage over a Minnesota-based dentist hunting and killing a beloved lion in Africa, according to USA Today.
The airline policies did not extend to cougars. Meanwhile, other recent luggage stowaways at U.S. airports carried a legal price.
On May 2, traveler Kurtis Law was detained after arriving in the U.S. from a trip to Vietnam when airport officials discovered nearly 100 exotic birds stowed in his luggage. The vast majority Law's cargo perished during the flight, Vice reports.
"The birds were placed in Law's suitcases in a way that allowed each bird little or no movement," the Department of Justice said in a statement at the time. "All but eight of the 93 birds ultimately died as a result of the smuggling."
Law was charged with felony smuggling and could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. While hunters in the U.S. can usually smoothly transport their game after complying with rules, trafficking exotic animals from overseas can carry stiff penalties.
Between 2005 and 2014, U.S. ports of entry intercepted roughly 55,000 living animals brought in by smugglers.