Tony Silva

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Tony Silva
Antonio Silva

1960 (age 58–59)
Residence Miami, Florida
Nationality American
Known for
Criminal charge
  • Conspiracy to smuggle wildlife
  • Tax evasion
Criminal penalty
  • 82 months confinement
  • $100,000 fine
Criminal status Released

Tony Silva (born 1960) is an American aviculturist and ornithologist, and the author of books and articles about parrots. From 1989 to 1992, he was curator of birds at Loro Parque, the largest parrot park in the world. In 1996, he was convicted of conspiring to smuggle rare parrots into the United States and of tax evasion.[1]

Early life and career

Silva was born in Cuba in 1960 and immigrated to the United States with his parents at a young age.[2] His parents encouraged his love of birds as a hobby to keep him out of trouble, and he began studying, collecting, and breeding birds at age nine.[2] Silva became enamoured with parrots at age 10 when he discovered macaws at a local pet store.[3] When he was in his teens, he became further enamoured after receiving a parakeet.[4] Silva's aviary was originally financed by his father (who owned a company that manufactured television components), later supplemented by his own income from breeding parrots, judging parrot contests, and lecturing and writing about parrots.[4]

Silva began writing articles about birds at age 16, and by age 20 he had published his first book.[5] In 1981, Silva received the Silver Avy Award from the American Federation of Aviculture (AFA) for being the first in the U.S. to successfully breed slender-billed conures in captivity.[4][6] Silva was self-taught and did not attend university, but by age 25 he was already regarded as an authority on parrots and was respected as a successful breeder.[4][7] In 1986, Silva became midwestern regional vice-president of the AFA.[8] By 1987, Silva was operating a pet shop called Tropifauna just outside of Chicago.[9] In August 1989, Silva became Curator of Birds at Loro Parque, Tenerife, Canary Islands, the largest parrot park in the world—a position he held until January 1992.[10] Silva travelled extensively to study parrots in the wild,[3] and wrote a variety of articles and multiple books about parrots.[2]

Silva was well known as a conservationist: he was an outspoken opponent of poaching and smuggling,[1] and he was involved in the early efforts to save the Spix's macaw.[11] Although highly respected among aviculturists, he was viewed with skepticism by the scientific community.[12] To some, Silva was merely a popularizer of others' ideas; to others, he was a "charlatan" who promoted wildlife conservation but who was suspected of engaging in illegal wildlife trade as early as 1980.[12]


Shortly after Silva started selling birds, he is believed to have begun supplementing his own birds with birds obtained on the black market, before eventually moving into smuggling.[13] Between at least 1986 and 1991, Silva conspired to smuggle protected birds valued at more than $1.3 million into the United States, neglecting to declare this income on his taxes.[14][15][16] While he was working at Loro Parque, Silva's mother ran the smuggling operation on his behalf.[14][15]

Birds were provided by co-conspirators in South America and shipped to Argentina or Mexico before being offloaded and smuggled into the United States.[17][18] Smuggled birds were often concealed by mixing them into a shipment of legally imported birds; Silva and his accomplices sneaked out the smuggled birds while the shipment was awaiting quarantine inspection.[14] Other birds were smuggled in plastic tubes, cardboard containers, and false-bottomed suitcases.[14][16][19] Many died during transport due to lack of food, water, and fresh air, and many more are thought to have died during capture.[2][19][20] Birds were transported to a Chicago-area motel room where they were surgically sexed and furnished with forged documents so they could be sold on the legal market.[10] Some of the birds were publicly advertised for sale in American Cage-bird Magazine.[10][21]

Operation Renegade

Silva was charged with smuggling at least 186 hyacinth macaws into the United States. At the time, each had a street value of $5,000–$12,000.[22]

In 1989, Silva became a person of interest in an international probe into bird smuggling known as "Operation Renegade" led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).[16] Silva had been brought to the attention of authorities when convicted drug lord Mario Tabraue turned informant, claiming that he had received a shipment of 35 smuggled hyacinth macaws from Silva—which arrived sick and died soon thereafter.[16][5][19] In early 1990, Silva's friend Jim Mackman approached authorities after discovering that Silva had been smuggling protected birds.[14] Between 1990 and 1992, Mackman worked as an undercover informant for USFWS, secretly recording more than 100 conversations with Silva and his mother about their smuggling operation.[14] A search warrant executed on 16 January 1992 resulted in the seizure of 103 parrots, some or all of which were protected or illegally imported.[23] The search also revealed ledgers documenting illegal transactions and photographs of birds that had died en route to Silva; prosecutors alleged that Silva used these photographs to justify withholding payments to his supplier.[19][24]

Between November 1994 and April 1995, Silva was indicted on 20 charges, including charges of conspiracy to commit wildlife smuggling, as well as charges of tax evasion and perjury.[25][26][27] Silva was charged with smuggling at least 186 hyacinth macaws into the United States;[17] this comprised 5–10% of the global population.[28] Silva was also charged with illegally trafficking, transporting, or possessing a number of other birds such as crimson-bellied conures, Queen of Bavaria conures, vinaceous amazons, cockatoos, flamingos, and toco toucans.[17][24][28] He was suspected of having smuggled Spix's macaws, but this could not be proven.[10]

On 30 January 1996, Silva pleaded guilty as part of a plea bargain to one count of conspiracy to violate wildlife and customs laws and one count of filing a false income tax return.[15][22] He later attempted to reverse his guilty plea,[29] but this was not permitted by the court.[30][31] On 18 November 1996, Silva was convicted of smuggling more than 450 protected birds and seven monkeys into the United States.[32] He was sentenced to 82 months in prison, fined $100,000, and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service during a three-year probationary term after his prison sentence.[28][1][16] At the time, this was the severest-ever sentence for bird smuggling in the United States, imposed by the judge because of "great cruelty" inflicted upon the birds.[28][19]

Silva was incarcerated at FPC Duluth.[33] Appeals of his conviction were unsuccessful,[18][34] as was an attempt to sue the U.S. government for the value of the parrots confiscated during the 1992 search.[23] Silva was released in May 2002.[35]

Life after prison

Despite having pleaded guilty, Silva has publicly maintained his innocence, suggesting that he was importing birds to preserve the species rather than for financial gain.[19][24] He has also questioned the credibility of the witnesses against him, and he has alleged impropriety by the U.S. government in pursuit of his conviction.[36][37]

As of 2016, Silva was working for an energy company and was keeping birds as a hobby,[38] as well as operating a rescue centre.[3] He has continued to remain active in aviculture circles as a writer and lecturer.[19]

In 2017, Silva and colleagues proposed a new species of parrot: the blue-winged amazon.[39] The existence of the species has been questioned.[40]

Selected publications

This is an incomplete list of works by Tony Silva.

  • Silva, T. & Kotlar, B. (1980). Discus. Tetra Press. ISBN 0969264046
  • Silva, T. & Kotlar, B. (1981). Breeding Lovebirds. TFH Publications. ISBN 0-87666-831-7
  • Silva, T. & Kotlar, B. (1989). Conures. TFH Publications. ISBN 0-86622-739-3
  • Silva, T. (1989). A Monograph of Endangered Parrots. Silvio Mattacchione & Co. ISBN 0969264046
  • Silva, T. (1991). Psittaculture: The Breeding, Rearing and Management of Parrots. Silvio Mattacchione & Co. ISBN 1895270022
  • Silva, T. (1993). A Monograph Of Macaws and Conures. Silvio Mattacchione & Co. ISBN 1895270006
Peer-reviewed articles
  • Jordan, R., & Silva, T. (1991). Breeding and rearing Salvadori's fig parrot: Psittaculirostris salvadorii at Loro Parque, Tenerife, International Zoo Yearbook 30:173-177.
  • Silva, T. (1994). Breeding the Spix's Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) at Loro Parque, Tenerife, International Zoo Yearbook 33:176-180.
  • Silva, T., Guzmán, A., Urantówka, A.D., & Mackiewicz, P. (2017). A new parrot taxon from the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico—its position within genus Amazona based on morphology and molecular phylogeny. PeerJ 5: e3475.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Press, The Associated (19 November 1996). "Smuggler Of Birds Sentenced" – via
  2. ^ a b c d "High-profile expert on exotic birds is sentenced for smuggling parrots - Nov 18, 1996 -".
  3. ^ a b c "About Tony Silva". 16 November 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d "Birdhouse".
  5. ^ a b "NOVA - Transcripts - The Great Wildlife Heist - PBS".
  6. ^ Dale, Thompson (1981). "Avy Award Winners". AFA Watchbird. 8 (5): 62–63 – via
  7. ^ Zimmerman, Steve (2006). A History of Smuggling in Florida: Rumrunners and Cocaine Cowboys. The History Press. ISBN 9781596291997.
  8. ^ Jerry, Jennings (1986). "President's message". AFA Watchbird. 13 (5): 13–14 – via
  9. ^ "2 Rare Birds Stolen From Burbank Shop".
  10. ^ a b c d Juniper, Tony (2002). Spix's Macaw: The Race to Save the World's Rarest Bird. Atria Books. ISBN 0743475518.
  11. ^ Silva, T. (1993). A Monograph of Macaws and Conures, pages 77-94 (Spix's Macaw)
  12. ^ a b Kenworthy, Tom (2 February 1996). "PARROT EXPERT PLEADS GUILTY TO ILLEGAL TRAFFICKING AFTER 6-YEAR PROBE" – via
  13. ^ "Wildlife: Would you stuff this into your suitcase? - Outside Online". 2 May 2004.
  14. ^ a b c d e f "Rare Bird Expert, Mom, To Admit Smuggling Roles".
  15. ^ a b c "Parrot Advocate Admits Smuggling".
  16. ^ a b c d e "A Defender of Rare Birds Is Guilty of Smuggling Them". The New York Times. February 3, 1996. Retrieved 2008-03-23.
  18. ^ a b "United States v. Tony Silva, 122 F.3d 412 –". CourtListener.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g "Smuggling Endangered Birds, Witness - BBC World Service". BBC.
  20. ^ "Did birdman smuggle endangered species?".
  21. ^ Albus, Anita (2013). On Rare Birds: A Lamentation on Natural History's Extinct and Endangered. Lyons Press. ISBN 0762788054.
  22. ^ a b "Prominent parrot expert pleads guilty to wildlife and tax felonies: Snared by nationwide probe". AFA Watchbird. 23 (2): 62–63. 30 January 1996 – via
  23. ^ a b "Silva V. United States 2002" (PDF).
  24. ^ a b c "Expert Jailed In Illegal Trade".
  25. ^ "Bird Expert Charged With Illegal Sales".
  26. ^ "U.s. Says Bird Expert A Smuggler".
  27. ^ "Parrot Smuggling Suspects Indicted".
  28. ^ a b c d "Bird Smuggler Will Roost In Prison".
  29. ^ "Wrinkle In Parrot Smuggling Case".
  30. ^ "Bird Expert Barred From Reneging Guilty Plea".
  31. ^ "Bird Expert Jailed Pending Sentencing".
  32. ^ Science, American Association for the Advancement of (6 December 1996). "Random Samples". Science. 274 (5293): 1617 – via
  34. ^ "Silva v. United States, 75 F. Supp. 2d 877 (N.D. Ill. 1999) –". CourtListener.
  35. ^ "Inmate Locator: Register No. 06402-424".
  37. ^ Silva, Tony (August 1995). "Tony Silva Responds" (PDF). PsittaScene. Vol. 7 no. 3. Cornwall, UK: World Parrot Trust. p. 14. Retrieved 2018-06-07.
  38. ^ "Tony Silva interview parrot breeding".
  39. ^ Silva, Tony; Guzmán, Antonio; Urantówka, Adam D.; Mackiewicz, Paweł (2017). "A new parrot taxon from the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico—its position within genus Amazona based on morphology and molecular phylogeny" (PDF). PeerJ. 5: e3475. doi:10.7717/peerj.3475.
  40. ^ Escalante, Patricia; Arteaga-Rojas, Abigail Eunice; Gutiérrez-Sánchez-Rüed, Mauricio (14 May 2018). "A new species of Mexican parrot? Reasonable doubt on the status of Amazona gomezgarzai (Psittaciformes: Psittacidae)". Zootaxa. 4420 (1): 139–147. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4420.1.9 – via

External links

  • Official website
  • Tony Silva Aviculture on Facebook
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