A 36-year-old Guyanese man was arrested at the John F. Kennedy Airport on Monday after he allegedly attempted to smuggle 35 live finches he obtained from his native country for “singing contests” in New York City, a complaint from the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York said.
The suspect, identified as Kevin Andre McKenzie, was approached and searched by Customs and Border Protection officers while he was going through formalities after arriving. Upon searching his jacket and the upper side of his shoes, officers found the birds placed in individual hair rollers that were covered with perforated nets.
McKenzie, who was subsequently taken into custody on a charge of illegally importing the birds, was later released after posting a $25,000 bond. During interrogation, McKenzie reportedly told officers he received an advance payment of $500 to smuggle the birds to New York before boarding his flight in his native Guyana. Had he been successful with his attempt, he said he would have received an outstanding balance of $2,500.
Kathryn McCabe, a special agent for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said finches are typically used for “singing contests” in Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods, adding that the Guyanese species are the most sought-after as they are believed to have better-singing prowess, CNN reported.
“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,” McCabe said in the complaint.
“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. Although certain species of finch are available in the United States, species from Guyana are believed to sing better and are therefore more valuable.”