Two men stuffed 26 finches into hair curlers and their socks and took a flight from Guyana to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, police say.
Why? Victor Benjamin, 72, and Insaf Ali, 57, are suspected of trying to enter the critters in a bird-singing competition, officials allege, with the goal of making some cash. According to the Queens Courier, the Eastern District of New York has singing competitions for finches that involve two of the birds belting out a tune while a judge decides which one is the better vocalist.
The competitions can prove profitable, NBC New York reported. Those who attend can place bets on the winner, officials say, and the victorious finch can nab its owner around $5,000 in some cases.
And there’s a likely reason why the two men from New York City were coming from Guyana, in South America. Gabriel Harper, from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a criminal complaint obtained by ABC News that the birds come from a country known to produce finches with vocal chops.
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“Although certain species of finch are available in the United States, species from Guyana are believed to sing better and are therefore more highly sought after,” Harper said in the complaint. “An individual willing to smuggle finches into the United States from Guyana can earn a large profit by selling these birds in the New York area.”
The pair of men didn’t make it past custom agents at the airport on Wednesday, police say, and officials found that they hid the over two dozen birds while on their flight. Benjamin allegedly had 14 birds on his person, according to NBC, while his accomplice had the other 12.
The Queens Courier reports that the two men didn’t try to get permits for the birds, which officials put into cages. From there, the United States Department of Agriculture will quarantine the feathered animals. It’s unknown whether any of the birds were harmed.
Benjamin and Ali are charged with illegally smuggling the birds into the U.S., which can land them 20 years in prison if they are found guilty, ABC13 reported.
Both were released on a $20,000 bond.