Prison sentence for UK parrot smuggler.

Prison sentence for UK parrot smuggler. Press release by Royal Society for the Protection of Birds issued on 14 April 2000

Today, at Newcastle Crown Court, the UK’s best known parrot breeder Harry Sissen has been found guilty of four charges relating to the illegal sale and importation of parrots. The four-week trial, brought by HM Customs, followed a raid on the Northallerton address of Harry Sissen in April 1998. In the operation over 140 parrots were seized in the North Yorkshire operation. These birds, of around 25 species, included three Lear’s macaws, one of the most critically endangered birds in the world.

Harry Sissen, who was charged with four offences, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years imprisonment and was asked to pay £5,000 costs by Judge Guy Whitburn, who, in his summing up, referred to Sissen as a liar and hypocrite. The first three charges related to the illegal import of Lear’s macaws, and the fourth charge to the illegal import of six blue-headed macaws all contrary to the UK Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) regulations.

Duncan McNiven, the RSPB species protection officer who attended the hearing, said: "This is an important verdict in the most serious case of endangered bird smuggling ever brought before a British court. "Mr Sissen acted with total disregard to the critical situation which faces Lear’s macaw in the wild. His selfish actions have helped to edge this beautiful parrot, which is even rarer than the giant panda, closer to extinction. A clear message has been sent from this court that the illegal and destructive trade in endangered species will not be tolerated."

Duncan McNiven added: "HM Customs and Excise deserve huge credit for tackling such a complex investigation. The outcome is a triumph for the partnership between the statutory authorities and conservation organisations like the RSPB who are determined to tackle international wildlife crime which is believed to be second only to drugs in terms of its monetary value."

During the trial the jury heard evidence that Mr Sissen had smuggled the birds across Europe concealed in a car after buying them from wildlife dealers in Yugoslavia and Slovakia. Further allegations included the fact that Sissen was said to lead a paper trail of bogus documentation to provide a smokescreen for the illegal importation of the birds.

The Lear’s macaw is a globally-threatened species and is listed on CITES Appendix 1. The bird was first described in 1858 by Charles Lucien Bonaparte (Napoleon’s nephew) from an illustration of a captive bird by the bird artist Edward Lear. However, the species’ wild existence remained a mystery until 1978 when it was discovered in a remote area of north-east Brazil. The current wild world population is thought to number only 160-180 individuals, with a further 18 birds in captivity.

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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)