Breeder says he left rare birds in Balkans

" Breeder says he left rare birds in Balkans " A report published in the Yorkshire Post, a British regional daily newspaper, on 7th June 2002.

One of Europe’s most successful parrot breeders paid £50,000 for three of the world’s rarest birds and left them in former Yugoslavia in the hope it would become part of the European Union and allow him to import them legally, a judge heard yesterday.

Harry Sissen, who was jailed for illegally importing some of the world’s most endangered species after a Newcastle Crown Court jury rejected his story, insisted it was true yesterday at a civil hearing to try to recover 144 birds seized by Customs and Excise.


But he admitted to District Judge Ronnie Anderson at Harrogate Magistrates’ Court that his Yugoslavian contact, called Zlatco, whom he des-cribed as "living in a fantasy world", had disappeared and the fate of his Lear macaws - of which there are only 150 in the world - was unknown.

Mr Sissen, 63, of Cornhill Farm, East Cowton, near Northallerton, was sentenced to 30 months in prison, later reduced to 18 months on app-eal, after a jury found him guilty in April 2000 of smuggling three Lear macaws and six blue-headed macaws.

Customs and Excise says they were illegally imported in contravention of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), but Mr Sissen argues those birds and others seized from his home were captive bred in Britain.

Under cross-examination by Simon Draycott QC, for Customs and Excise, he repeatedly denied that a file of faxes and other documents found in the raid was evidence that he had been negotiating with Zlatco and others to smuggle birds on the CITES list into Britain.

Judge Anderson has to de-cide whether to grant an application from Customs for the seized birds, which Mr Sissen says have a value of £100,000, to be forfeited or whether they should be returned to East Cowton from zoos and bird gardens across Britain. Mr Sissen, who has two previous convictions dating back to 1977 and 1981 for illegal imports, including a Military Macaw and other birds found in a hidden compartment in his car, said he became a professional breeder after a row with his father, who wanted him to concentrate on farming.

Describing his belief that he had a duty to preserve rare birds which were in danger of extinction, he said: "My way of looking at it was that there are thousands of farmers producing millions of tonnes whereas I had the opportun-ity to do something for future generations of the world. "I don’t buy birds to make money and never have."

Mr Sissen, who said he had owed the bank up to £42,000 in pursuit of his ambitions, added: "I still think I am right. Anyone with knowledge of birds thinks I am right and future generations will think I am right."

He told Judge Anderson his breeding programme had been so successful that he had filled Europe with five species of rare birds, including the red-fronted macaw, which had deflated their value to the point where it was no longer worth dealers smuggling them. "I am very proud of that."

The hearing continues

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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)