Man Arrested Trying To Smuggle 35 Live Birds In Hair Curlers Into America
Border officials at New York’s JFK airport made one of their more surprising discoveries this week, arresting a man attempting to smuggle 35 live birds hidden in hair curlers into the country.
Kevin Andre McKenzie was caught after arriving on a flight from Georgetown, Guyana, with Customs and Border Protection officials discovering the 35 finches stuffed inside rows of hair curlers sewn into his coat and taped around his ankles.
It’s not clear how the smuggler managed to keep the notoriously chirpy songbirds quiet on the journey, but thankfully the birds survived the almost six-hour flight, and were reportedly handed over to the US Department of Agriculture and Veterinary Services.
As if this story wasn’t baffling enough, incredibly, this isn’t even the first time something like this has happened. In fact, it’s the second time in the past month alone that a literal budgie smuggler has tried to make their way through JFK; New York Post reports a 26-year old was also intercepted on arrival from Guyana in late March with 29 of the birds hidden in hair curlers in a suitcase.
A previous bust was reported in 2018, when a man attempted to smuggle in 70 finches, also kept in hair curlers. That year, more than 2,000 of the birds were confiscated by CBP officials across the country, the New York Times reported.
It seems like a lot of effort to smuggle in birds that are already pretty common in the United States. But apparently, Guyanese finches are an especially lucrative breed, thanks to their widespread use in bird singing contests. Popular among Caribbean and Latin American immigrants in New York, the contests see punters place high-stakes bets on ‘speed-singing’ contests, with winnings often reaching several thousand dollars.
A court filing against McKenzie explains that ‘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. A finch who wins these competitions becomes valuable and can sell for more than $10,000.’
Upon his arrest on Monday, April 26, McKenzie told officials he had been offered $3,000 to smuggle the birds in. But it sounds like he may have been short changed, as another smuggler caught in 2019 reportedly said he planned to fetch $3,000 per finch.
McKenzie has reportedly been charged with the illegal importation of wildlife, and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
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