85 Dead Songbirds in a Suitcase Show Why Animal Trafficking Is a Major Issue

It turns out stuffing nearly 100 exotic songbirds into a suitcase is a good way to end up with a suitcase full of dead songbirds. It’s also a good way to land a list of felony smuggling charges, as one California man found out.

Federal agents arrested 49-year-old Kurtis Law Tuesday after he allegedly brought 93 Asian songbirds into the US via a flight from Vietnam. Law faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the felony smuggling charges. Most of the birds, which ranged from lovely white Bali mynas to brightly colored silver-eared Mesias, died during the trip, according to a press release from the Department of Justice. The birds being smuggling were all species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

“The birds were placed in Law’s suitcases in a way that allowed each bird little or no movement,” the release says. “All but eight of the 93 birds ultimately died as a result of the smuggling.”

It’s a particularly gruesome outcome, but not unusual in the world of wildlife trafficking, and is just one snapshot of a growing problem. Nearly 55,000 live animals were seized at US points of entry between 2005 and 2014, according to Defender of Wildlife, a conservation nonprofit that analyzes data from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. These animals range from birds, to fish, to monkeys, and are used for both sale in the commercial pet trade and, depending on the species, for consumption.

Though some exotic species can be brought into the US under CITES, they typically require a permit to do so. That’s why groups like Defenders recommend people getting pets should ask for documentation before buying. US Fish and Wildlife Services has been expanding its anti-wildlife trafficking programs, including trying to build greater public awareness, to drive down demand and shrink the market. Until consumers start paying more attention, cases like this will only continue to be sadly common.

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