The trafficker was arrested in Miami while attempting to transport 29 Amazon parrot eggs from Nicaragua to Taiwan.
While examining passengers’ luggage at Miami International Airport, United States Customs and Border Protection officers suddenly heard a strange sound: a chirping sound. Officers took a closer look and discovered a man was smuggling parrot eggs. The eggs, they discovered, were beginning to hatch.
According to Associated press, the smuggler, a Chinese national named Szu Ta Wu, was stopped at a checkpoint while trying to change flights between Managua, Nicaragua, and Taiwan. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents asked him to explain the noise coming from his luggage, and Wu revealed an egg. Upon further inspection, officers found two dozen more eggs – and they were beginning to hatch.
In all, Wu had 29 eggs with him. He admitted he had no documents to transport the birds and claimed a friend paid him to transport them from Nicaragua to Taiwan. Meanwhile, officers rushed to rescue the birds, seven more of which began to hatch.
As USA today reports, the chicks – and future chicks – have been entrusted to the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation (RSCF), which is associated with Florida International University (FIU).
“By then we were off to the races,” said Paul Reillo, a Florida International University professor and director of the foundation. Associated press. “We have all these eggs, the chicks are hatching, the incubator is working and by the time it’s all said and done we’ve hatched 26 of 29 eggs and 24 of 26 chicks have survived.”
For USA today, Reillo added: “It’s not easy to assemble a group of so many synchronized eggs so that they all hatch around the same time. The total time from the first to the last hatching was only 10 days.
At first, no one knew what kind of birds Wu had smuggled. Wu claimed he didn’t know what they were, and hatchlings don’t have feathers, making it difficult for Reillo and the others to identify them. Eventually, they tested the birds’ eggshells for DNA. They determined that the parrots belonged to two species: the yellow-naped amazon and the red-lore amazon.
Yellow-naped Amazon parrots are endangered and banned from international trade, according to a statement from the CRF, but their beauty and intelligence make them one of the most trafficked birds. These birds were poached directly from their nests.
“They are hand-raised babies,” Reillo told the Associated press. “They never saw mum and dad; they have been raised by us since hatching.
So far, the parrots seem to be doing well. When people approach their cages, they nod and chirp. They will soon switch to a diet of food pellets and fruit, and they are expected to start flying. But Reillo warns that they could have suffered a different fate.
“The vast majority of these trafficking cases end in tragedy,” he said. “The fact that the chicks hatched on the first day of his trip from Managua to Miami tells you that it’s extremely unlikely that any of them would have survived if he had made it all the way to his destination in Taiwan, which would have meant an additional 24 to 36 hours of travel.
Her next task is to find a suitable home for the parrots, which can live to be 70 years old. USA today reports that it is probably not possible to send them back to their homes in Central America, as they were raised by hand and political issues would complicate their repatriation.
“Parrots are long-lived. They are sensitive creatures. They’re very smart, very social, and these guys deserve a chance,” Reillo said. “The question will be where will they end up? What will their journey be? It is just beginning.
The parrots’ journey may be unclear, but authorities have a better idea of what awaits their smuggler. Wu pleaded guilty to wildlife smuggling and faces up to 20 years in prison.
After reading about the parrot smuggler captured when the eggs he was carrying began to hatch, learn about the Kakapo, New Zealand’s “owl parrot” on the brink of extinction. Or see why Alex the parrot was perhaps the smartest bird in the world.