Peruvian police and customs officials intercepted a bus carrying 581 wild finches packed into boxes. Wildlife traffickers captured the finches from the forest and shoved them into the small wooden cages.
The cages were then loaded onto a bus in Arequipa, Peru, and driven back to Bolivia.
The birds had no had very little ventilation and no food or water.
“It looks as if they were packed into them [the cages], and being wild birds, they certainly would have suffered high levels of stress,” Richard Thomas, global communications coordinator for TRAFFIC, an organization that campaigns against wildlife smuggling said. “According to the media report, a significant number perished.”
Once officials confiscated the wild finches, they sent the birds to a safe location where they could be rehabilitated.
Unfortunately, help came too late for many of the birds only 60 of the 581 birds survived said Lissete Milagros Herrera Casas, press specialist for Servicio Nacional Forestal y de Fauna Silvestre del Ministerio de Agricultura y Riego (Serfor Perú).
The birds, saffron finches, are frequently captured and transported from other countries to Brazil for bird singing competitions. Thomas suspects that the birds’ final destination wasn’t Bolivia, but Brazil.
“Saffron finches there [in Brazil] are hugely popular in bird singing tournaments, where they are known as ‘canario da terra,’ and large sums of money frequently change hands by those who bet on whose bird is the best singer during bird song competitions,” Thomas said.
“However, bird breeders in Brazil … [believe] the locally-bred saffron finches lose their aggressiveness in singing tournaments, so new wild individuals with ‘fierce blood’ are needed to maintain the quality of the contests,” he added. “The breeders consider birds from Peru … more aggressive than those found in Brazil. Although larger, birds from Brazil are crossed with the smaller but bolder Peruvian birds to create the ‘ideal’ combination of size and temperament to win tournaments.”
Both the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and BirdLife International classify the saffron finch as a species of “least concern,” meaning they are not viewed as a threatened or endangered species, primarily because the saffron finch has a large range throughout South America, and doesn’t appear to be in decline.
“Just because a species is common doesn’t mean it’s safe of course,” Thomas said. “There’s no better example of the flaw in that thinking than the passenger pigeon, once the commonest birds in North America. The last one fell off its perch and died at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914.”
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