Special Agent John Brooks 619-719-7921
Lauren Mack, 619-719-7921 (ICE)
Scott Flaherty 916-978-6156
One hundred forty nine exotic parrots protected by U.S. and international law and confiscated from smugglers at the U.S. border with Mexico were returned to Mexico this morning at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry near San Diego, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today.
The parrots, amazon and conure species taken from the wild in Mexico, were turned over to Mexican wildlife authorities (Procuraduria Federal de Proteccion al Ambiente.) by the Service?s Office of Law Enforcement.
More than half of the birds (82) were seized in June 2007 by Service special agents and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers according to Sam Jojola, deputy resident agent in charge of the Service?s law enforcement office in Torrance, Calif. "We are pleased to return these birds home to Mexico where they belong."
More than 300 species of parrot are found throughout the world, primarily in countries with tropical and semi-tropical climates. Because of their beauty and intelligence, parrots are prized as pets throughout the United States. The high demand for parrots as pets, combined with loss of habitat in many countries, has jeopardized many wild populations. According to the World Wildlife Fund, 94 parrot species are threatened with extinction. Sixteen parrot species are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.
"The high demand provides an irresistible incentive for smugglers to profit at the birds? expense," Jojola said.
The Service?s San Diego Law Enforcement Office has documented over 30 arrests of individuals transporting commercial quantities of smuggled birds from Mexico over the past eight years. From 1999 through 2004, for example, 30 individuals were intercepted by federal authorities while attempting to smuggle commercial quantities of live birds into the U.S. from Mexico. During this same period, Service special agents and wildlife inspectors seized 641 birds valued at over $222,000 in Southern California alone. One individual from Perris, Calif., is estimated to have illegally transported between 6,000 and 10,000 exotic birds valued at more than $1.5 million before he was arrested and charged under federal customs and wildlife protection laws.
"The birds being returned to Mexico today represent only a handful of the untold thousands of threatened and endangered wildlife that end up in the illegal trade each year," Jojola said, "In the case of parrots, smugglers typically cross the U.S-Mexico border and conspire with certain exotic pet retailers or travel to swap meets to sell the birds at a lower price than legally obtained birds. People buy them because they are significantly cheaper and rarely ask about their origin."
Jojola also noted that parrots and other birds smuggled into the United States avoid health screenings or other tests that typically assure pet owners they are buying a healthy bird. "This trafficking not only places species in the wild at risk, but also represents a potential threat to the health of poultry and people with Exotic Newcastle?s Disease and potentially the H5N1 bird flu," he said.
Parrot species are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and U.S. and Mexican law. The Wild Bird Conservation Act (WBCA) was enacted in 1992 in an effort to encourage captive breeding of the more popular bird species by placing a moratorium on the importation of many wild birds like parrots. Nearly all parrots sold in U.S. pet stores are captive bred birds.
The repatriation of the parrots is the result of the combined efforts of the Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture?s (APHIS) Veterinary Services, Department of Homeland Security U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) Officers, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agents, and Mexico?s Procuraduria Federal de Proteccion al Ambiente (PROFEPA) The U.S. Attorneys Office in San Diego was instrumental in prosecuting individuals involved in the illegal trafficking of the parrots repatriated today.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 97-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 547 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.