On June 2, a traveler from Ireland arrived at the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshal Airport toting a very unique item. The traveler had a taxidermied Atlantic puffin in a box with his other luggage, which violated a World War I-era federal law, officials said.
When the U.S. Customs agents discovered the stuffed bird, the traveler explained that it was prohibited under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. A valid permit is required to “take, possess, import, export, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale” a migratory bird or its eggs, parts or nests. Since the traveler could not provide the proper documentation, the agents had no other option but to seize the puffin.
Authorities released the traveler without a penalty, since the agents were made aware of the bird. The identity of the traveler was not released.
According to Steve Sapp, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman, it is not unusual for agricultural specialists to encounter prohibited meats and fruits at the customs desk at BWI. Travelers from African countries will sometimes attempt to get rodents and monkeys through the airport. In Africa, these animals are hunted and consumed in many homes.
“We see a lot of those things usually, but it’s very unusual for us to see a full-sized, taxidermied Atlantic puffin,” he said.
According to the National Audubon Society, while puffins, also called “sea parrot” and “clown of the ocean,” are not classified as an endangered species, they are under threat by illegal activities.
Atlantic puffins are plentiful in Ireland and can be found throughout the world. In Ireland, the bird is hunted and eaten, just like grouse and ducks in the United States. The Project Puffin Visitor Center in Maine has established a colony of nearly 2,000 Atlantic puffins.