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Four men indicted attempting to smuggle exotic birds from Puerto Rico to the Dominican Republic

Release Date
Mon, 05/13/2024

 U.S. Fish and Wildlife and CBP caution on a wildlife trafficking trend

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico– Today a federal grand jury indicted four men from the Dominican Republic who attempted to smuggle hundreds of exotic birds into the Dominican Republic and were interdicted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Coast Guard.

According to court documents, on or about May 3, 2024, defendants Frankluis Carela De Jesús, Waner Balbuena, Juan Graviel Ramírez Cedano, and Domingo Heureau Altagracia traveled together in a flagless vessel departing from San Juan, Puerto Rico to the Dominican Republic.

A CBP Air and Marine Operations multi-role enforcement aircraft detected a suspect vessel 25-foot makeshift vessel, approximately 30 nautical miles north of Isabela, Puerto Rico.  CBP contacted Sector San Juan who diverted the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Doyle to investigate.  

Upon detecting the presence of law enforcement units, the suspect vessel occupants attempted to flee the scene while jettisoning multiple packages and equipment overboard.  Shortly thereafter, cutter Joseph Doyle and a CBP-AMO helicopter successfully stopped the vessel. 

Following the interdiction, the Joseph Doyle crew recovered some of the jettison packages that were filled with a total of approximately one hundred thirteen (113) deceased birds.  The defendants lacked any license to export the wildlife and failed to declare the tropical birds as required by federal regulations governing the exportation of wildlife.

The crew of cutter Joseph Doyle apprehended and transferred custody of the four suspected smugglers to U.S. Border Patrol Ramey Sector agents in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.  Custody of the four men, the birds and cages were remanded to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for investigation and prosecution.

"As part of our ongoing efforts to safeguard our borders and protect our communities, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) remains steadfast in our commitment to deterring smuggling activities of all kinds, including the reprehensible trade in wildlife,” indicated Christopher Hunter, Director of CBP Air and Marine Operations in the Caribbean. “AMO is dedicated to working collaboratively with our domestic and international partners to combat wildlife smuggling and uphold the rule of law."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cautioned the public today on repeated attempts to smuggle exotic animals on board makeshift “Yola “type vessels from the Puerto Rico to the Dominican Republic. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will work tirelessly to investigate brazen attempts to smuggle exotic birds from Puerto Rico, said Edward Grace, Assistant Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement.  “Thanks to the quick actions of the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the four smugglers were caught before successfully concealing their crimes and evading capture.  Their decision to recklessly jettison smuggled birds and other evidence from their vessel resulted in the death of numerous exotic birds.  This case underscores the cruel reality of the illegal wildlife trade and our commitment to vigorously pursue those engaged in wildlife trafficking. 

CBP regularly works with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, as well as with the U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to enforce wildlife trade laws. These interagency efforts target imports of illegal wildlife within the bounds of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and the Lacey Act.

Illegal wildlife trafficking is one of the most profitable natural resource crimes. It encompasses the harvesting and selling of wildlife, and wildlife products, (including pelts, ivory, plants, and furs) to be used as medicine, fashion, food, or pets sold to consumers. 

The global movement and trafficking of animals and plants also expose actors along shipment routes to novel zoonotic diseases, which are transmitted from animals to humans.

Transmittable infectious disease is not just a concern for human pandemic preparedness; it can have widespread economic consequences for the agricultural sector, as well as detrimental effects for native wildlife. In addition to potentially major economic consequences, wildlife trafficking incentivizes criminals to target already endangered species, while threatening to endanger others. This, in turn, can destabilize ecosystems and threaten the health and security of people who depend on these natural resources for their livelihood. 

Last Modified: May 13, 2024