When more than three dozen finches were found hidden in hair rollers inside a man’s baggage at JFK International Airport recently, Customs and Border Protection agents had a case of deja-vu.
On April 17, a 36-year-old traveling from Guyana had 40 live finches individually placed in hair rollers inside his bag. The man was fined $300 and determined to be “inadmissible” to the U.S. and placed on a flight back home later that day.
This may seem unique, but CBP agents say nearly the same thing happened about a month earlier.
On March 28, a 26-year-old man, again traveling to JFK from Guyana, was found to have 29 finches in his bag hidden in hair rollers. He was heading to an address in New Jersey.
However, agents assessed a $300 fine and withdrew his request to enter the country. He was placed on a flight back to Guyana the next day.
“The smuggling of these birds in hair curlers shows the horror of wildlife trafficking,” said Ryan Noel, Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement.
In both cases, the birds were handed over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Veterinary Services.
There are reports a third man from Guyana was trying to smuggle finches into the U.S. and was arrested on April 26. This man, identified by CNN as Kevin Andre McKenzie, had the birds inside hair rollers inside the clothing he was wearing.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, the man was paid to bring the birds to New York where they take part in singing contests.
"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," according to Kathryn McCabe, a special agent for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. "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."