Brazilian police arrested a Portuguese man Thursday and accused him of attempting to smuggle 200 wild Peruvian canaries through Sao Paulo's international airport.
The contraband canaries are an "aggressive" species that could endanger local bird populations, said Augusto Billi, of the Agriculture Ministry inspection service.
A routine X-ray scan of the suspect's luggage revealed birds inside four cages, Billi said. Sixty-five of the canaries suffocated or died of dehydration, and the rest were being treated by veterinarians and returned to Peru.
The suspect, identified as Joaquim Rodrigues Marques Correa, was arrested and charged with animal cruelty and bringing exotic animals into the country without a permit. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted.
"We believe he was planning to embark on another flight and try to smuggle them into Europe," Billi said. "I am pretty sure he paid no more than $50 per bird in Peru, hoping to fetch at least $1,000 per bird in Europe."