Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hummingbird heartbreak

This little guy is trussed up for an unauthorized flight out of Cayenne, French Guiana. He was one of a dozen live, unsedated hummingbirds that a Dutch national was attempting to smuggle out of the country concealed in his underpants. The man - who has a previous conviction for the same crime - was acting suspiciously, and a body scanner revealed the birds.

Ecotrafficking (video here), the smuggling of rare and endangered species, generates up to $20 billion in annual profits worldwide, according to Interpol. One country where the illegal market in wild birds fluorishes is India. There, birds of many species (horned owl, rose-ringed parakeet, black-headed munia, red munia, green munia, swamp francolin, Finnâs baya, and Shaheen falcon) are sold as pets, for food or medicine, for taxidermy, or to be released during religious rites. Authorities make about 30 large seizures each year, with more than 10,000 birds confiscated at the Mumbai International Airport in a single month in 2001. In Mexico in 2008, 297 baby orange-fronted conures whose wings had been clipped were recovered from bird smugglers.

The black market is not always in whole, let alone live, birds. In Canada, the United States, and Europe, illegal trafficking in bald eagle claws, wings, and feathers is driven by the demand for costumes to attend traditional ceremonial gatherings. There are also smugglers were prefer to transport the birds before they are hatched. Here is a T-shirt modified to carry 52 cockatoo and macaw eggs, and here (scroll down) is an egg-smuggling vest. Of course, eggs aren't always viable and birds aren't always salvageable, even when they are confiscated. Of the 24 eggs a man was caught sneaking out of South Africa in 2004, 22 had been crushed. While they were being smuggled into Britain in 2002 in tubes carried in suitcases (photo here, scroll down), 6 of 24 distressed birds of prey died. Smuggled birds that don't die from the stress are often carriers of diseases that can devastate poultry and caged birds.

Remember this story last year about a man caught smuggling songbirds from Vietnam into the U.S. because flight attendants noticed the feathers protruding from his pants and bird poop on his shoes and socks? The photo was good for a laugh in the weird news, but bird trafficking is deadly serious. The man in this case was part of a successful and lucrative ring of illegal importers who received light sentences. "The fact that Dong was caught trying to smuggle 14 birds back from Vietnam but had 51 others already at home would suggest he made multiple successful trips before finally being nabbed."

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