Environment

South Florida bird smuggling ring headed to court

(FILES) Photo dated 15 October 2005 shows a Taiwanese coastguard clad in protective clothing examining a bird smuggled into the island from China in the central Taichung harbour. Eight pet birds smuggled into Taiwan from China tested positive for the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus but an outbreak was unlikely as all the birds they were seized with had been destroyed, health officials said 20 October 2005. AFP PHOTO/Ting Chih-kuan  TAIWAN OUT
(FILES) Photo dated 15 October 2005 shows a Taiwanese coastguard clad in protective clothing examining a bird smuggled into the island from China in the central Taichung harbour. Eight pet birds smuggled into Taiwan from China tested positive for the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus but an outbreak was unlikely as all the birds they were seized with had been destroyed, health officials said 20 October 2005. AFP PHOTO/Ting Chih-kuan TAIWAN OUT

The Miami U.S. Attorney's office wrapped up a lengthy investigation into a South Florida bird smuggling ring this week that involved sophisticated, gruesome, and sometimes bizarre trapping techniques.

Over the last four year, more than 400 protected birds, including hawks and songbirds, were trapped and smuggled by the six men.

As they spread out across South Florida, the men - from Homestead, Miami and Hialeah - used solar panels to power electronic bird calls to lure birds and coated trees with a sticky adhesive, according to the U.S. Attorney's office. During migrating season, they rounded up scores of birds by flushing them from fields and into mist nets frequently used by researchers.

The birds were sometimes injured during trapping, or abused by the trappers, the office said. One trapper ripped out tail feathers and another left a bird tangled in netting, which feral cats and birds later attacked, the office said.

In one of the more baffling examples of their handiwork, one of the men nailed a loggerhead shrike, a black-masked songbird, to a wooden cross because he believed the bird was threatening his business. After photographing it, he used the photo to promote himself in a private chat group.

On Saturday morning, about 130 of the birds rescued by officers will be released in Everglades National Park, said spokeswoman Danese Canedo. The birds include indigo and painted buntings, cardinals, rose-breasted grosbeaks and house finches.

South Florida has long been considered ground zero for wildlife smuggling in the United States. Its menagerie of native birds, and position as a way station for many other migrating birds, makes birds a particular target. In 2010, state wildlife officers busted a ring of trapping painted buntings used in singing competitions in Cuba and Asia. Two years later airport customs agents in Miami arrested a man with 16 bullfinches sewn into his pants.

The men targeted songbirds used by the illegal bird trade for singing competitions and raptors including hawks and owls.

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"The American people are investing billions of dollars to restore the Everglades and this kind of illegal poaching activity cannot be tolerated,” park Superintendent Pedro Ramos said in a statement.

The men arrested include Juan Carlos Rodriguez, 54, known as "El Doctor," Miguel Loureiro, 27, Hovary Muniz, 42, Alberto Iran Corbo Martinez, 38, Reynaldo Mederos, 28, and Carlos Hernandez, 34. They were all charged selling or smuggling the birds.

The indictments for the men, which each involve multiple charges, date from last Friday to August. If convicted they could face from two to five years in prison for each count.

Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich.
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