Monkey Business: When Mexico Tried to Buy a Gorilla on the Black Market

Note: Our accounts contain the personal recollections and opinions of the individual interviewed. The views expressed should not be considered official statements of the U.S. government or the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. ADST conducts oral history interviews with retired U.S. diplomats, and uses their accounts to form narratives around specific events or concepts, in order to further the study of American diplomatic history and provide the historical perspective of those directly involved. Embassies around the world focus on some very important issues - bilateral trade negotiations, helping American citizens abroad, reporting on political developments. And then there are the things that come up that can drive you absolutely bananas. Theodore Wilkinson was Chief Political Officer in Mexico City in 1993 when he received an interesting phone call. He recalls this in an interview with ADST in 1999. 2015-08-17-1439797088-4922445-gorilla200x200.jpg Read more humorous accounts on This account was edited by J. Silverman.

WILKINSON: [One] incident which was very humorous...was in a brief period -- I believe it was in early or mid-1993 -- when both the Ambassador and the DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission] were away and I was chargé for a week or 10 days.

I got a call from an assistant to the drug czar, the Mexican equivalent of our drug czar, whose name was Carillo Olea, saying that a "Mexican security agent" was in trouble in Miami and could we arrange to get him released? I asked for more details and never got another phone call.

But separately, I learned from American authorities that a Mexican agent had indeed been arrested in Miami for attempting to smuggle out a gorilla, an animal, out of the United States.

And it turned out that this man was not really a security agent; he was an employee of the state of Mexico where a gorilla had died in the zoo, and the state of Mexico sent one of its agents to Miami to try to buy illegally, on the illegal animal market, a gorilla from a zoo.

And the FBI got wind of this and decided to go ahead with a scam, or a sting, and they dressed an FBI agent up in a gorilla suit and they actually loaded him on the airplane.

The Mexicans were all ready to take off, and then they sprung the trap on these guys.

Q: I can see the gorilla pointing with his finger: "I accuse!"

WILKINSON: J'accuse! So the Mexican so-called security agent that they had called to ask me to help with was actually a gorilla smuggler, and he went to jail in Miami.