"The border has been a major problem for us for a number of years," said Jerome S. Smith, deputy chief with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's division of law enforcement in Washington.
Recently, however, the problem--and the effort to stop it--has taken on new dimensions with regard to bird-smuggling, perhaps the largest single component of the illicit animal trade from Mexico. As the birds become rarer and their values soar, officials say that threatened birds from throughout Latin America, as well as Asia, Africa and even Australia, are now entering the United States via Mexico, just as South American cocaine is often transshipped through Mexico.
Poses Health Threat
Besides further depleting already-dwindling bird populations, the flourishing trade poses a serious threat to U.S. pet bird stocks and the domestic poultry industry because of the possible spread of exotic avian diseases.
In the last six months, Smith said, officials have detected the illegal entry into Mexico of about 250 palm cockatoos, magnificent black birds found in only three countries--Australia, Papua New Guinea and Australia. Commercial export of the bird is prohibited from all three nations, Smith noted. The birds, which are being smuggled into the United States 8 or 10 at a time, fetch up to $10,000 apiece north of the border.
Meanwhile, enforcement efforts on the U.S. side are increasingly targeting the leaders of well-organized bird-smuggling rings.
In October, U.S. officials in San Diego arrested Jose Jesus Gomez Valdovinos, a 41-year-old Tijuana shopkeeper who authorities say is one of the major Tijuana suppliers of black-market birds. Previously, prosecutors had obtained convictions against a U.S. middleman and pet-outlet operators in Louisiana and South Carolina who had allegedly purchased more than 300 yellow-naped Amazon parrots from Gomez. The birds, prized for their bright colors and mimicking abilities, had a street value of more than $250,000. Gomez was lured across the border by an undercover operative promising payment of a $20,000 debt for previously purchased parrots.
"We think he (Gomez) is one of the big operators," said Charles S. Crandall, an assistant U.S. attorney in San Diego who is prosecuting the case against the Tijuana man, who has denied the charges. "This is one of the few opportunities that we've had to actually get inside a ring."
Yet officials acknowledge that most smugglers are never apprehended.
"The cases we make are only the tip of the iceberg," said David Klinger, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, D.C.
The flourishing trade has alarmed conservationists and others concerned about the future of many of the birds, some of which are already severely threatened by deforestation, habitat destruction and other factors.
"We believe that the populations of many of these birds, particularly in Mexico, are being affected substantially by this trade," said Jorgen Thomsen, a biologist with TRAFFIC (U.S.A.), an arm of the World Wildlife Fund in Washington.
In Mexico, too, the depredations of native bird populations and species from other nations has alarmed the growing numbers of conservationists, who are harshly critical of what they see as government inaction.
This news has been published by title Black Market In Birds : Smugglers Big And Small Bring Illegal Fowl From Mexico Into U.S.
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