Guyana man arrested at airport for smuggling 35 birds in luggage

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A Guyanese man was arrested for trying to smuggle 35 birds into the country for a singing contest. On Monday, the man flew into JFK airport from Guyana with the finches tucked away in hair curlers, according to CNN.

Kevin Andre McKenzie, 36, attempted to smuggle the birds into the country for singing contests which typically occur in neighborhoods located in Brooklyn and Queens. Birds who win the contests are considered very valuable and are worth a lot of money.

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“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,” said special agent for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Kathryn McCabe in the complaint from the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.

“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 told officials he was offered $3,000 to smuggle in the finches. He was given $500 upfront and would receive the other $2500 once he made it through customs. The birds were being kept in hair rollers topped with perforated netting, located in the suspect’s jacket and on top of his shoes.

Photo: CNN / US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York

When birds enter the country, they are subject to a 30-day quarantine per government regulations mentioned in the complaint to avoid spreading contagious diseases.

McKenzie was charged with importing the finches unlawfully and released on a $25,000 bond. James Darrow, McKenzie’s attorney, declined to comment.

In recent years, bird smugglers have been making headlines. Back in March, another man was discovered trying to smuggle finches into JFK airport using the hair roller method. In June of 2019, another man tried to bring 34 of the singing birds into the country using the same technique, and in 2012 a man tried the scheme but concealed them in cardboard toilet rolls. They were all coming from Guyana.

In June of 2019, The New York Times spoke with a source who said that Guyanese people move to this country and bring their traditions with them and bird singing competitions are no different.

“This is like a sport from back home,” said Ray Harinarain, a bird importer who lives in the Cypress Hills neighborhood of Brooklyn. “People from Guyana move here and bring their traditions.”

Photo: CNN/ US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York

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“Some people just prefer to smuggle,” Mr. Harinarain added. “It’s an underground thing that people don’t want to talk about it.” But experts say bird smuggling is more than a game.

“With a multibillion-dollar U.S. poultry industry, there’s a lot at stake and a lot at risk if they’re moving animals like this,” said veterinarian and vice president of health programs at the Wildlife Conservation Society, Paul Calle. “It’s a terrible thing.”

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