An American man has been arrested for smuggling finches into the US after he was found with 34 of the birds in his luggage as he disembarked from his plavne at JFK airport in New York.
Francis Gurahoo, 39, was flying into the US from Guyana when he was stopped and found to be carrying the animals, which had been squeezed into hair curlers in his carry-on bag.
It is suspected that the birds were being smuggled to take part in 'chirping competitions', where birds are pitted against one another to sing. Birds with good voices can change hands for up to $10,000.
“[People] bet on how many times the finches will chirp in a minute, which finch chirps the most,” Anthony Bucci, a spokesman for United States Customs and Border Protection in New York, told the New York Times.
“The most common animal we see trying to be smuggled through the passenger environment are these birds, the finches.”
Guyanese finches are particularly valued for their chirping abilities, and Gurahoo is believed to have been expecting to recoup $100,000 for his haul.
It's the latest attempt to smuggle birds into New York, where there is keen interest in the competition in the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn.
There were at least eight attempts in 2018 to bring birds into the US that were foiled by customs officials. The birds are often given rum before they fly to calm them.
In December last year 70 live birds were discovered in a duffel bag being brought in through JFK by a Guyanese man.
“It goes in cycles, like everything else,” Mr. Bucci said. “It’s not an everyday occurrence or an every month occurrence, but it does happen.”
A prime concern is that smuggled animals can bring diseases such as bird flu into the country.
“[Customs officers] are the first line of defense to prevent the introduction of animal diseases that have the potential to cause significant damage to the Nation’s agricultural economy,” the Customs and Border Protection agency sais in a statement last year.