Two dozen rare baby parrots that hatched after being left orphaned in a wildlife smuggling operation are now able to chirp and bob their heads as conservationists raise them in a new home.
On March 23, Miami International AirportU.S. Customs and Border Protection officers discovered the tiny hatchlings when faint chirps were heard from a “cleverly disguised incubator” in the carry-on bag of a passenger who just arrived from Managua, Nicaragua and was en route to Taiwan with a total of 29 Red-browed Amazon parrot eggs.
The Chinese national pleaded guilty to wildlife smuggling and faces up to 20 years in prison when he’s sentenced in August.
Soon after discovering the eggs, agents transported the Central American birds to the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation (RSCF), which has zoologists who are providing “round-the-clock care” at the institute’s program partner, Florida International University (FIU).
For 45 days, the chicks remained under federally mandated quarantine until the birds tested negative for pathogens, according to FIU’s statement.
“Now, the parrot chicks fill their days with demanding chirps and playful movements that will soon transition to flight,” the statement said.
FIU research professor Paul Reillo, also the founding director of RSCF, said the smuggler was clearly “part of a very sophisticated trafficking operation.”
Trafficking of wildlife and wildlife products is estimated to be the fourth largest illegal trade in the world, and the U.S. is among the largest markets for both legal and illegal wildlife in the world, according to FIU researchers.
“It’s not easy to assemble a group of this many eggs synchronized to all hatch around the same time. The total elapsed time from the first to last hatching was just 10 days,” Reillo said.
For more than 30 years, Reillo and his team have “successfully bred and managed endangered parrot species to support their recovery in the wild,” the statement said.
The arrival of these parrots at the airport’s U.S. Department of Agriculture’s quarantine facility “presented a unique challenge to the federal agencies that regulate the importation of wildlife because they lack the specialized equipment and means to hatch and care for so many tiny hatchlings,” the statement said.
“The reality for many threatened and endangered species is they are being illegally trafficked for the pet trade, for animal products and for food,” said Mike Heithaus, executive dean of FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences & Education.
The birds are “poor candidates” for repatriation or release due to political issues and because the birds are being hand-reared, according to their caretakers.
“FIU has built robust anti-trafficking programs to combat this issue and these parrots are very lucky to have Dr. Reillo and his team step up to help give them a fighting chance at survival,” Heithaus added. “Now, what we really need is stop trafficking before animals are removed from the wild so we don’t lose these species forever.”
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