A man was arrested at New York City’s John F. Kennedy Airport on Sunday after he allegedly tried to smuggle 34 live finches from Guyana in his carry-on luggage.
According to a complaint filed by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York, and obtained by CNN and other outlets, Francis Gurahoo, 39, allegedly hid each bird in a plastic hair curler. Gurahoo allegedly told prosecutors that he was planning to sell the 34 birds for about $100,000 — approximately $3,000 per bird, the outlet reports.
The Washington Post reports the birds were discovered during a customs exam.
The complaint notes that Guyanese finches are used for underground “singing contests” in areas of New York City including Brooklyn and Queens, according to CNN. Gamblers will place money on the birds’ voices.
“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. Many who attend the singing contests wager on the birds. A finch who wins these competitions becomes valuable and can sell for in excess of $5,000,” the complaint reads, according to NBC New York.
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Gurahoo did not have the United States Fish and Wildlife Service permit required to import the birds legally, the Post reported.
It was not immediately clear if he has retained an attorney who could comment on his behalf.
According to a December 2018 article from the New York Times, nearly 200 finches were caught last year while being smuggled in from South America. The newspaper reports that a winning bird with “a good pedigree and track record” can go for up to $10,000.
“They bet on how many times the finches will chirp in a minute, which finch chirps the most,” Anthony Bucci, a spokesman for United States Customs and Border Protection in New York, told the Times. “The most common animal we see trying to be smuggled through the passenger environment are these birds, the finches.”
The Times reported that the birds are often hidden in hair curlers, like Gurahoo’s, but have also been found in toilet paper rolls or stuffed into socks.