Trading Places

Here’s how it started. In the early 1990s, in a Mexican state called, confusingly, Mexico, the prize gorilla at a local zoo died. Victor Bernal, the zoo’s director, was desperate to get another one — fast. So he contacted a dealer of exotic animals in Miami and began to arrange, illegally, to have a gorilla shipped to Mexico.

But, unfortunately for Bernal, this particular animal dealer was working as an informant for a federal investigation into primate smuggling. He told the feds, and they started plotting how to nab Bernal. To arrest him, though, they would need to complete the transaction, with Bernal handing over money for an illegally smuggled gorilla.

“But it’s risky and dangerous to use a real animal, so we had to use a willing substitute — an agent in a gorilla outfit,” a U.S. attorney told told the Los Angeles Times.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The feds put the agent in a special gorilla cage at an airport in Miami, where Bernal and his associates picked him up and handed over the money. The arrest took place “very soon after they saw the agent in a gorilla suit,” federal authorities said, but also “apparently the agent was fairly proficient at apelike sound effects” and “it was a very good costume.”

Or maybe the buyers were so stressed out, they weren’t looking that closely. Even after they were arrested, they didn’t quite grasp what was going on, writes:

Now that the ruse was up, [wildlife officer Terry] English had no more need of a sweaty, shit-encrusted gorilla costume, so he simply opened the door of the cage and walked toward Bernal, who reportedly lost his shit. Even after English had removed the mask, the prisoner still thought a real gorilla was actually coming to rip his head off and punt it onto the runway.

How is it even possible that this isn’t a movie yet?

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.