Some of you may recall my joyous posting on January 25, when I received the export permits for the samples from Mali after waiting 13 months. Well, as I predicted, shipping the samples would turn out to be another challenge. I spent several weeks setting up a DHL corporate account so that my African colleagues wouldn't need to pay for shipping and wait for reimbursement, which takes time and would be difficult for them. There were some hoops to jump through to set up the account, but my very own customer service rep, Erik, has been extremely helpful. Then the big day came when my colleague in Mali, Colonel Timbo, was ready to pack up the samples and send them. And that was the day I woke up to find out there had been a coup in Mali. Doesn't it just figure? So the entire capital shut down and everyone waited for the government to work its issues out. Finally, several weeks later businesses re-opened and the samples went out. Lucky thing too, because the day after they left, rebels seized control of the northern part of the country and all businesses closed again. I'm saddened for the people of Mali and the struggles they are going through, and I hope they will find a peaceful resolution.
I eagerly checked tracking updates as the samples flew into the USA, cleared customs, and headed to Florida. Erik told me my paperwork was perfect and that everything was flawless. And today the long-awaited package arrived! I was so excited, but as I opened it, I noticed a hole in the plastic. I barely thought about it as I ripped inside to find a ziplock baggie with the samples in it. But unfortunately, instead of opening the ziplock baggie at the top as any normal person would, the customs people had instead sliced into the center of the baggie, leaving a gaping hole. They had then stuck their stickers on the intact reverse side of the baggie, annoucing that they had "repacked" the samples. Which of course they had not, because the gaping hole was still wide open. And as I looked at the samples, I realized 4 were missing. They were listed on all the forms, but they were not there. Which means they had fallen out of the bag somewhere between customs in Ohio and my house. Out of 9 samples that I had traveled so far to collect and worked so hard to ship (let's not even get into the cost), almost half were gone. It may seem a small thing, but these are the first manatee genetic samples ever to be collected from Mali, and after all the time and effort it is much more than disappointing. Bizarrely, all 4 samples were from the same location, so I now have nothing from that part of the Niger River.
Of course I told DHL, but obviously there's nothing to be done. Their agent did not check to make sure customs had properly re-sealed the packaging, nor did they do so themselves. Sad, sad, sad. I'm very happy to have the samples I do, but I'm depressed about the ones I lost.