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Police steal smugglers' haul of birds and monkeys

POLICE officers in Trinidad allegedly hijacked a smugglers boat at gunpoint and stole 1,000 endangered birds and monkeys along with 180 kilograms of wild animal meat, authorities said on Tuesday.

The boat had sailed from Venezuela carrying more than 500 bullfinches, 300 picoplat songbirds and an assortment of monkeys - all crammed into tiny cages piled up on the craft, officials said. The illicit load was estimated to be worth about US$500,000.

Trinidad officials got a tip about Saturday's alleged hijacking and investigators found birds and monkeys in people's homes, in pet shops and even along roads in Port-of-Spain, the capital, senior game warden Samsundar Ramdeen said.

"It's amazing. It was a lot," he said.

Officials said the four officers face several charges including possession of protected animals without a permit. They said the birds and monkeys were protected species requiring licenses for import and export.

Veterinarians at Trinidad's main zoo are caring for the recovered creatures, whose future remains uncertain.

About 10 percent cannot be released into the wild because they are not native to Trinidad, Ramdeen said. But Emperor Valley Zoo can handle only so many animals, and dozens of parrots, monkeys and macaws might have to be killed if homes are not found, he said.

"The last thing you want to do is put animals to sleep," said Gupte Lutchmedial, president of the Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago. "It's not their fault that they're here."


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