Birds' Atlantic crossing ends at zoo: Nicholas Schoon reports on efforts by customs officers to protect endangered species of animals and birds by intercepting attempts at smuggling

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ASIM, first engineer on the Kartal 7, was disconsolate; HM Customs and Excise executive officer Peter Roffey was insistent. His parrot would be seized.

It was one of five African greys which three crew members on the Turkish bulk carrier had bought in Egypt and Nigeria. The birds had voyaged in two small cages to St Kitts in the Caribbean and then to Silvertown in London, where a cargo of sugar was being unloaded into Tate & Lyle's vast refinery.

Asim seemed fond of his parrot, which perched on his finger and nuzzled his lips. He had intended to leave the ship at Silvertown and fly back to Turkey with the bird, which was for his brother's dentist. The young first engineer said he had bought the parrot for dollars 200 (pounds 105) in Egypt but it would be worth dollars 4,000 (pounds 2,100) in Turkey.

The parrots looked well and a Ministry of Agriculture vet pronounced them fit. But this species is on Cites appendix 2 and should not be exported without a government permit.

Asim produced a piece of paper; a photocopy bearing Arabic script and some lines of incomprehensible English. It cost him dollars 50 from the authorities in Alexandria, he said, and he believed it entitled him to export the parrot. Mr Roffey, tipped off about the parrots by the ship's agent, was unimpressed. The paper made no mention of Cites and seemed to be a health certificate. In any case, the three sailors had intended to bring the parrots on to British soil - albeit only to take airline flights home - and had failed to obtain import permits.

The parrots were taken to Colchester Zoo, where they will spend 35 days in quarantine before probably joining the zoo's collection.

(Photograph omitted)