By PETER MUELLO Associated Press Writer
© 2005 The Associated Press
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Brazilian authorities raided warehouses in five states Wednesday and arrested nine people accused of smuggling rare birds for sale in Europe and the United States.
Police also seized some 2,000 birds awaiting shipment during the raid, the first in Brazil to uncover an international wildlife smuggling ring, the government environmental protection agency Ibama said.
The nine suspects will face charges of contraband, mistreatment of wildlife and criminal association, federal police officer Alvaro Palharini said. The crimes are punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The birds seized included macaws, toucans, parrots, cardinals and canaries, as well as seed-finches and saltators, considered endangered in Brazil.
The birds were being smuggled to Argentina and Uruguay, then shipped to lucrative markets in Europe and the United States, Ibama said. In Europe, the preferred market, a blue macaw can fetch $30,000.
The birds will be transferred to private reserves licensed by the government.
The gang also brought rare foreign birds into Brazil for sale on the domestic black market, according to the agency.
“From Argentina and Uruguay, they brought back to Brazil flamingos and yellow cardinals, which are nearly extinct and worth a lot on the black market,” Ibama acting director Fernando Falcao said.
Falcao said Brazilian law was too soft on animal smuggling and he urged tougher penalties. He said agents had found animals hidden in women’s stockings, suitcases, pipes and bottles, and he estimated that nine animals died for each one that survived to reach market.
“The courts consider environmental crimes inoffensive and often convert sentences to community service and low fines,” he said. “Drug trafficking carries a stigma, but wildlife trafficking doesn’t, yet.”
According to the Brazilian anti-animal trafficking group Renctas, the commerce of rare animals generates about $2 billion a year in Brazil, making it the country’s third-largest illegal industry after drug and weapons smuggling.
Renctas said 40 percent of the animals sold illegally go to collectors in the United States, Europe and Asia, while the rest remain in Brazil. Songbirds and birds with spectacular plumage are the most sought-after species, the group said.
Brazilian law forbids the hunting and capture of wild animals except when authorized for scientific purposes.