Wildlife trafficking: 6 men indicted for illegally trapping songbirds mid migration through TX and selling them, US attorney says

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HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — Six men have been indicted for the illegal trafficking of songbirds, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Antonio Cabrero Ruano, 56; Roberto Guimary Machado, 59; Luis Valdez Machado, 22; Iran Almarales Garcia, 53; Ediel Barroso Quintero, 27; and Alexander DeJesus Lechuga, 45, were taken into custody over the last week.


The video above is ABC13’s 24/7 Livestream.

Authorities said they’re accused of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and/or the Lacey Act.

On top of the six men, authorities said Rydel Cabrales Rosa, 36, a Cuban national, and Luis Alonzo Martinez, 56, from El Salvador, who lived in Houston, were previously charged and pleaded guilty.

The scheme allegedly involved the illegal trapping and selling of protected songbirds, including indigo buntings, painted buntings, rose-breasted grosbeaks, blue grosbeaks, and house finches, the attorney’s office said.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the birds are often used in singing competitions in which the participating owners gamble thousands of dollars on the winning bird, a common practice in Cuba and elsewhere.

The birds usually migrate from Canada through Texas to South America. Officials said the birds are trapped as they pass through Houston, commonly using a live “bait bird” whose singing attracts the other birds to the trap.

An investigation into this led to more than 300 illegally trapped songbirds being seized. They were then turned over to the Houston Zoo and Moody Gardens, where they were evaluated.

The FWS reports that illegal trapping has a major impact on the wild songbird populations. The birds are poorly suited to captivity and die soon after being confined to a cage.

“We are pleased to see a positive outcome in this case as the plight of native birds is just now becoming clear. It is our core role as an Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited organization to preserve natural resources and protect threatened and endangered wildlife,” General Curator Greg Whittaker of Moody Gardens said.

Whittaker also told ABC13 that he’d never heard of any other cases like this and that it’s something unique. He said most birds were used in the ornamental bird market in Asia and are highly sought after if they’re vocal and can sing a lot.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was enacted in 1918 for the protection of migratory birds. The Lacey Act prohibits trafficking in wildlife that was taken in violation of federal, state, tribal, or foreign law.

If convicted, the suspects each face a penalty of five years in prison for violating the Lacey Act, two years for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and possibly fines of up to $250,000, officials said.

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