Finches are songbirds that are in high demand for high-stakes singing contests popular in Brooklyn and Queens.
A man from Guyana was intercepted at JFK Airport in New York trying to illegally smuggle in 35 live finches. The tiny songbirds were stuffed in plastic hair curlers and covered with a mesh cloth. The man, identified as Kevin Andre McKenzie, wore it on him and concealed it with his clothes, reported New York Post. The curlers were worn around his ankle and lined on the inside of his jacket. McKenzie was busted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents as he deboarded the five-hour plane from Georgetown, Guyana, to New York. It has been alleged that he was smuggling the birds for a bird singing contest in Queens, New York.
McKenzie told officers that he had been offered $3,000 to smuggle the birds. He was supposedly paid $500 before his flight and was to receive the remaining $2,500 after he got through Customs. He was pulled aside by authorities for an examination when the birds were found. He has now been charged with unlawful importing of finches. Finches are in high demand for high-stakes singing contests that are popular in Brooklyn and Queens. Although there are American finches, the Guyanese variety of these birds is preferred for the competitions. They involve steep wagers.
"In such contests, often conducted in public areas like parks, two finches sing and a judge selects the bird determined to have the best voice," Kathryn McCabe, a special agent for the US Fish and Wildlife Service stated in the complaint, according to CNN. "Many who attend the singing contests wager on the birds. A finch who wins these competitions becomes valuable and can sell for more than $10,000. Although certain species of finch are available in the United States, species from Guyana are believed to sing better and are therefore more valuable."
McKenzie has currently been released on a $25,000 bond. He was not criminally charged, but the CBP assessed a $300 civil penalty. He is currently deemed inadmissible into the United States. McKenzie was placed on a Guyana-bound flight later that same day. As for the birds, CBP agriculture specialists quarantined the finches and turned them over to the United States Department of Agriculture Veterinary Services. “CBP Agriculture Specialists 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,” Marty C. Raybon, Acting Director of Field Operations for CBP’s New York Field Office said in a statement.
But this was definitely not the first time a man from Guyana tried to smuggle finches into New York. In the second fortnight of March, a 26-year-old man who was also from Georgetown, Guyana, traveling to New Jersey was smuggling 30 finches in a similar fashion. The birds were discovered by CBP officers during a secondary baggage examination. “The smuggling of these birds in hair curlers shows the horror of wildlife trafficking,” Ryan Noel, Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement stated. "I would like to thank U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for their assistance with this case. By working together, we can help protect humans, and wildlife, for future generations."