Chirping sounds led Miami airport officials to a bag full of smuggled Amazon parrot eggs. Here’s how most of the chicks survived.
The 24 bright green parrots began to chirp and shake their heads when anyone approached the large cages that had been their home since they hatched in March.
Central Americans captured by a smuggler are being raised at Miami International Airport. Rare Species Conservatory Foundation – a round-the-clock effort that involves eating five meals a day in a room full of large cages.
At just 9 weeks old, these parrots have already survived a harrowing journey after being snatched from their nests in a forest. They are almost fully recovered now and staff have started switching them from a special formula to food pellets and fruit.
“You ready to meet the kids?” asked Paul Relo, a professor at Florida International University and director of the foundation, as he led visitors Friday into a small building behind a sprawling home in Loxahatchee, a rural community near West Palm Beach.
“They’re hand-raised babies,” she said, as the chicks frolicked and eyed the onlookers quizzically. “They have never seen mother and father; we have raised them since they were children.”
It was the hatchling’s chirping inside a carry-on bag at the Miami airport that brought them to the attention of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer. According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Miami, the passenger, Su Tao Wu, had just arrived on TACA Airlines Flight 392 from Managua, Nicaragua, on March 23, and had changed flights in Miami to return to Taiwan. had lived.
Officers stopped Wu at a checkpoint. He was asked about the sound coming from his bag, which Rilo later described as a “sophisticated” temperature-controlled cooler.
Woo reached inside, pulled out a small bag and showed the officer an egg, the complaint said. The officer then looked inside and saw more eggs and a small feathered bird that had just hatched.
He told the officer there were 29 eggs, and he didn’t have documentation to transport the birds, according to the complaint.
Wu was arrested, and on May 5 pleaded guilty to bird trafficking in the United States. He faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced on August 1.
A lawyer who could speak on her behalf was not listed in court records, but Wu told investigators through a Mandarin interpreter that a friend had paid her to travel from Taiwan to Nicaragua to collect the eggs. He refused to know what kind of bird they were.
The officer took the bag and contacted the US Fish and Wildlife Service. By this time, eight birds had hatched or were in the process of hatching.
It didn’t take long for federal authorities to catch up with Rilo.
“They didn’t know what these things were and wanted my advice on it,” Relo said. Baby parrots are wingless, so identifying them is difficult.
He helped set up a temporary incubator at the US Department of Agriculture’s aviary at the airport to save the parrots now hatching.
The next day, Dr. Stacey McFarlane, the USDA specialist who initially cared for the birds and eggs at the airport, and other officials delivered the baby parrots and the rest of the eggs to Rilo’s conservatory.
He said that at that time we were leaving for the race. “We have all these eggs, the chicks are hatching, the incubator is running and by the time it was all said and done, we hatched 26 out of 29 eggs, and 24 out of 26 survived.”
USDA regulations require the birds to be quarantined for 45 days, meaning Rilo and his team had to clean the room upon entering and exiting.
But they still weren’t sure which of the 360 species of parrots they were dealing with.
A forensic team from Florida International extracted DNA samples from eggshells and dead birds to identify species. They discovered that the 24 surviving parrots were from eight or nine clutches and included two species – the yellow-naped amazon and the red-naped amazon.
Both birds are popular in the smuggling and cage bird industries because they are beautiful and have good temperaments, Relo said.
He said the pipeline of smuggling out of Central America is well established and has been going on for years.
“In fact, the biggest threat to parrots globally is a combination of habitat loss and trafficking,” Relo said, adding that about 90 percent of the eggs are poached for the illegal parrot trade. are
Birdlife International lists the yellow-naped amazon as “critically endangered” with a wild population of between 1,000 and 2,500. The red Amazon is also listed as a declining population.
“Most of these trafficking cases end in tragedy,” Relo said. “The fact that the chicks were hatching on the first day of its journey from Managua to Miami makes it very unlikely that any of them would have survived if they had actually reached their destination in Taiwan. By the 36-hour journey. “
Rilo now faces the challenge of finding a permanent home for the birds, which can live 60 to 70 years or more. He said he is working with the US Fish and Wildlife Services on a project to “help the birds fly freely and restore their species in the wild.”
He said that parrots live for a long time. “The question will be where will they wind up? What is their journey going to be? It’s just beginning.”
According to WWFwhile many parrots are legal and kept as pets, “there is a dark side to the parrot trade.”
“Some birds are taken from their wild homes and trafficked to market centers to be sold to unsuspecting customers,” WWF says. die.”
In Guatemala, exotic animal trafficking is big business and often small animals are smuggled on public transport. BBC News reported.. While searching a bus in 2021, police found a bag containing several baby parrots, which were taken back to an animal hospital to recover.
In other parts of the world, travelers have been caught before attempting to smuggle parrots and other exotic birds.
In 2020, Dozens of smuggled parrots. Items packed in plastic bottles have been recovered from a sunken ship in Indonesia.
In 2018, US Customs and Border Protection officers and agriculture experts at JFK Airport inspected a passenger’s carry-on bag and 20 live finches were discovered. housed in tube-shaped enclosures.
In 2015, police in Indonesia said one man crushed nearly two dozen. Endangered yellow cockatoos in plastic bottles in an attempt to hide them through customs.