On this day in 1996, one of the world’s foremost experts on exotic birds was sentenced to 82 months in prison, a $100,000 fine, and 200 hours of community service during a three-year supervised release program after his prison term. His name? Tony Silva.
Sure, famous people have run afoul (pun intended) of the law before but Silva’s case shocked the international community of academic experts, conservationists, zoologists, and others interested in exotic birds because Silva was well-known and respected as a benevolent bird lover.
His crime? Smuggling more than 100 hyacinth macaws, valued at almost $1.4 million, as well as hundreds of other exotic birds. Hyacinth macaws are extremely rare, having a wild population numbering between only 2,000 and 5,000, and during smuggling operations, many of the birds die.
If you have never seen a hyacinth macaw, you’ve come to the right blog:
Silva began breeding birds as a young boy. By his early 20s, he had written hundreds of articles and two books on rare parrots and had been named curator of Loro Park, a wildlife sanctuary in the Canary Islands.
U.S. District Court Judge Elaine Bucklo was outraged at the inhumane treatment the birds had received at the hands of the smugglers. She handed down a uniquely harsh sentence, admonishing Silva: “The real victims of these crimes were the birds themselves and our children and future generations who may never have the opportunity to see any of these rare birds.”
By the way, if it wasn’t for the San Diego Zoo, I probably would never have seen a hyacinth macaw. The one pictured is a San Diego Zoo ambassador, meaning that it gets to live out its life in the comfort of the Zoo while visiting schools, conventions, and other events to introduce people to hyacinth macaws and educate them about smuggling and conservation. The one pictured was rescued from a smuggling operation. Unfortunately, most smuggled wildlife (that survives) cannot be returned to the wild for various reasons. If they are returned to the wrong territory, they might be killed by rivals. If they have been imprinted by humans, they might be dependent on humans and not able to hunt in the wild. Thus, many smuggled wildlife are given to Zoos, Aquariums, and Sanctuaries where they are taken care of and provided with a good life while making children squeal with delight (and adults like me smile) when we get to interact with them.
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