Year
1996

High-profile expert on exotic birds is sentenced for smuggling parrots

Tony Silva, a world-renowned expert and outspoken protector of exotic birds, is sentenced to seven years in prison without parole for leading an illegal parrot smuggling operation. Silva was only one of many to be arrested during “Operation Renegade,” a three-year international probe into bird smuggling by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Law Enforcement, although his case was by far the best known.

Silva’s indictment and guilty plea shocked the international community of academic experts, conservationists, zoologists, and collectors interested in exotic birds, most of whom had known and respected him as a benevolent bird lover. Since his childhood, Silva had championed the cause of protecting wildlife. His parents, who had emigrated to the U.S. from Cuba when he was a boy, encouraged his love of birds, thinking it was a good way to keep their son out of trouble. Silva began breeding birds at a young age, and, by his 20s, he had already 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.

However, Silva’s image greatly changed when he was accused of smugglingmore than 100hyacinth macaws, valued at almost$1.4 million, as well as hundreds ofother exotic birds. Hyacinth macaws are extremely rare, having a wild population numbering between only 2,000 and 5,000. During smuggling operations, many of the birds die.

U.S. District Court Judge Elaine Bucklo, outraged at the inhumane treatement the birds had received at the hands of the smugglers, handed down a uniquely harsh sentence in the Silva case: an82-month prison term, a $100,000 fine and an order to perform 200 hours of community service during a three-year supervised release program after his prison term. “The real victims of these crimes, ” the judge said, “were the birds themselves and our children and future generations who may never have the opportunity to see any of these rare birds.”

Silva later claimed that he was set up and had only been trying to protect the birds. However, many disagree with Silva’s interpretation of the events, citing the evidence from his trial, which included photographs of dead parrots, a book detailing his smuggling operations found at his home, and a taped conversation of Silva saying that he had 50 hyacinth macaws for sale.

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