Court to decide whether rare parrots go back to smuggler

" Court to decide whether rare parrots go back to smuggler". A report in the Northern Echo, a British regional daily newspaper, on Thursday, 10th April 2003

A bizarre custody battle involving 100 rare parrots began in a North-East court yesterday.

Harry Sissen - an acknowledged world expert on rare species - is hoping to win the return of his birds, seized after he was convicted of smuggling three years ago.

Yesterday, customs officials launched a legal bid to stop the birds being returned.

Teesside Crown Court heard claims that the 64-year-old from North Yorkshire was a professional trafficker in endangered species with links to smugglers worldwide.

The Customs and Excise Department is appealing against a decision to return 100 parrots to Mr Sissen after he served an 18-month jail sentence imposed at Newcastle Crown Court in April 2000.

He was jailed for breaching restrictions on importation of endangered species, relating to three Lear’s Macaws from Latvia and six blue-headed macaws from Slovakia.

Belgium and Holland are the only EEC countries from which the UK accepts birds.

Yesterday, the court heard how Mr Sissen had been caught smuggling as long ago as 1977. The jury heard he was spotted at Dover with four parrots hidden inside his coat and another 18 in concealed compartments in his car.

In 1981, he was arrested at Felixstowe Docks with 38 parrots hidden in holes drilled into the chassis of his van.

At his home, Cornhill Farm, East Cowton, Northallerton, investigators found faxes and letters linking him with bird smugglers in Brazil, Slovakia and the US.

Customs officer Sarah Wallder said that she seized 136 birds from his aviaries in June 1998 and eight in March 1999. She said: "The point of restrictions is to prevent or restrict the trade in endangered species and thus promote their survival."

The Brazilian government applied for repatriation of Mr Sissen’s Lear’s macaws, which are among the world’s rarest birds, with only 140 left and about 20 breeding pairs. They are Annexe A - which are critically endangered.

Mr Sissens challenged her, saying: "You came to my place and you took away all my birds in the middle of the breeding season."

Miss Wallder said that three birds had been bred since the raid.

Mr Sissens said: "If you had left them on my premises I would by now have bred almost 300 A-list birds. Plus 50 of my beautiful adults have died under your supposed care."

The case is continuing.

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 " Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret "

( If you drive out nature with a pitchfork, she will soon find a way back)

Horace (65-8 BC)