Brazilian authorities raided warehouses in five states Wednesday and arrested nine people accused of smuggling rare birds for sale in Europe and the United States.
Police also seized some 2,000 birds awaiting shipment during the raid, the first in Brazil to uncover an international wildlife smuggling ring, the government environmental protection agency Ibama said.
The nine suspects will face charges of contraband, mistreatment of wildlife and criminal association, federal police officer Alvaro Palharini said. The crimes are punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The birds seized included macaws, toucans, parrots, cardinals and canaries, as well as seed-finches and saltators, considered endangered in Brazil.
The birds were being smuggled to Argentina and Uruguay, then shipped to lucrative markets in Europe and the United States, Ibama said. In Europe, the preferred market, a blue macaw can fetch $30,000.
The birds will be transferred to private reserves licensed by the government.
The gang also brought rare foreign birds into Brazil for sale on the domestic black market.
"From Argentina and Uruguay, they brought back to Brazil flamingos and yellow cardinals, which are nearly extinct and worth a lot on the black market," Ibama acting director Fernando Falcao said.
Falcao said Brazilian law was too soft on animal smuggling and he urged tougher penalties, the AP reports.