Deadly rattle detected in Cuban maracas

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Biosecurity staff detected a deadly rattle in a set of souvenir maracas carried by two air passengers arriving in New Zealand from Cuba.

The couple declared the Cuban percussion instruments to Ministry for Primary Industries biosecurity staff at Auckland airport earlier this month. 

X-ray screening revealed the maracas used red seeds for their rattle. MPI later identified the seed as Abrus precatorius, commonly known as crab’s eye and rosary pea.

The seeds contain abrin, which is more toxic than ricin – a deadly poison associated with spies and biological weaponry.

A single seed contains enough toxin to kill an adult, although its hard shell allows it to be handled or even swallowed without releasing the poison.

“It’s standard practice for MPI to x-ray hollow handicrafts for seeds and other contaminants that could wreak havoc on New Zealand’s natural resources,” says Craig Hughes, MPI Manager North, Passenger and Mail.

“We often find seeds and plant material, but something like Crab’s eye is more unusual, although we occasionally find seeds of this type on handicrafts from Africa and the Caribbean.”

Crab’s eye is an invasive pest in many tropical regions, including parts of Australia.

“It is clearly something we don’t want in this country.  The passengers deserve a big thank you for considering New Zealand’s biosecurity needs when they filled in their declaration cards.”

MPI removed the seeds from the maracas before returning them to the passengers.

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