EDIT: Thanks so much for your questions! I had a lot of fun answering them and appreciate your desire to take action on this issue! I've got to jump on some other stories now, but please do read this songbird trapping story and share it with your friends! Until next time, thanks! - Dina

I spent time riding along with law enforcement in Florida as they pursued trappers, visited pet stores that deal in songbirds, and also learned a fair bit about the culture behind this practice by interviewing trappers and bird lovers alike. The story dives into the thriving underground trade in songbirds for pets, clandestine songbird competitions and why we should care about this issue. This is an example of wildlife crime that has happening right here in the United States. Looking forward to your questions and please do check out the story here: https://on.natgeo.com/2GtDLi6.

Proof: https://i.redd.it/v1xmclqde4c31.jpg

Comments: 166 • Responses: 26  • Date: 

Leenzlions117 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA! Was it difficult to get people (especially those who participate in this illegal trade) to talk about it? What sorts of challenges did you face while reporting on this topic?

nationalgeographic116 karma

Thanks for the question and for tuning in! Yes, in some instances it is difficult to get people involved in the illegal wildlife trade to talk about it. As I note in the story, I was not able to get access into one of these songbird competitions, for example, which was both really disappointing and frustrating. With this story, I was honestly pretty surprised how candid people were about talking to a reporter about their illegal activities with songbird trapping and that they would admit that they knew it was illegal as well.

N8teface50 karma

Hi Dina! Thanks for answering our questions. What can everyday individuals do to help put an end to the practice of songbird trapping? Especially since it seems to be specific to unique cultural circles?

nationalgeographic64 karma


Thanks for your question and for reading! Two things you can do are to raise awareness of this issue by telling your friends and associates about it -- and make sure you mention the damage it can and does do the animals and their ecosystems. One way to hopefully raise awareness (and I say as humbly as possible!) would be to share this story. A main reason I wrote it is to shine a spotlight on this issue. Another thing to do is, if you see something suspicious, to consider calling it in so that it can be investigated. In Florida, for example, there is a hotline you can call https://myfwc.com/contact/

almondparfitt49 karma

are the songbird competitions illegal? how big of an industry do you estimate it to be? thx!

nationalgeographic69 karma

Owning any bird protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is illegal so having any of those birds compete in the competition is illegal, yes. (It's a very extensive list of birds!) It's really hard to estimate how big of an industry it is, unfortunately, both in the U.S. and around the world. There are distinct competitions in Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and here in the United States so it's hard to say. In some places, like in Cuba, I'm told they are conducted out in the open so it might be easier to get some numbers in those settings than here in the United States.

hanashon8029 karma

What animal exploitation issues would people by appalled to find out go on in their day-to-day lives?

nationalgeographic58 karma

That's a complex question. One way I might answer that is to point out that animal exploitation issues are often present in wildlife tourism settings -- the ones many of us may visit or see photos of on our social media feeds (see our recent feature on that https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2019/06/global-wildlife-tourism-social-media-causes-animal-suffering/). I'd also point to the mistreatment of pets and wild animals in our own communities. Concerned citizens can always call their state authorities/wildlife hotlines if they suspect something is amiss.

hayleycreates27 karma

Hi Dina, thanks for the AMA. I admire what you and thank you for the time and effort you put in to stop animal crime and exploitation. My question is how you manage to deal with vastness of the problem. How do you not get overwhelmed by what must seem like an never ending problem? Also, what was your most satisfying feature that you worked on?

nationalgeographic42 karma

Thanks for the question and appreciate your kind words! It is certainly easy to get overwhelmed by these issues and I, too, have often asked people who work on these day in and day out -- either in law enforcement or animal welfare jobs -- how they manage. Personally, I try to focus on the "wins" and the hope that I am making a difference in the lives of individual animals and hopefully on a broader basis as well. When I feel drained or a bit hopeless I try to remember that change cannot always happen overnight.

I would say some of the most satisfying work I've done in my career has been when I've heard that stories I've written have made a difference in someone's life. During the height of the Zika crisis, when I worked at a different publication, a reader contacted me when she was in the hospital saying that she had been reading my deep reporting on that issue and sought help because of my stories (and was reaching out because of them). I had a similarly gratifying experience early in my career when writing about stigma around mental illness. It's nice to feel like you are making a difference!

Coopers_Croze10 karma

How much money is in something like illegal songbird competitions/trapping? Seems like a really niche thing, but it must be profitable. And what types of people (obviously bad ones) are funding these things? A better question may be who is the target audience? How rare are the birds we are talking about here? Thanks for all your work, this is very interesting!

nationalgeographic14 karma

Thanks for the question and for reading.. I try not to provide too much information on how much birds (or other wildlife) can sell for because I certainly don't want to inspire anyone to get involved with the trade. With that said, your instincts are correct. The target audience, at least in Florida, are most often members of the Cuban community (please read the story https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/07/songbirds-are-being-snatched-from-miamis-forests/ for more details)! The birds themselves are often not that rare, though many of them are migratory and thus not there all year long.

asstaters9 karma

Are you vegan?

nationalgeographic5 karma


lordperiwinkle9 karma

Thank you for your work. How are you funded and is that funding in danger of being cut?

nationalgeographic17 karma

Thanks for reading! My work is funded by the National Geographic Society, which supports my investigations and those of the Wildlife Watch team. Shows of support -- meaning emails/social media messages, etc. -- are always appreciated so we can share them with the Society!

carlinwasright8 karma

Collecting exotic / illegal pets is such an irrational and bizarre hobby to me. What motivates the buyers?

In movies and TV shows, the typical profile of a collector is some drug kingpin or wealthy white collar criminal. Do you find that the buyers fit this profile?

nationalgeographic12 karma

Thanks for the question. There are a variety of motivations for these buyers and trappers alike. As one wildlife official told me, for the story, "We see everything from money as a driver, to religious purposes for sacrifice, to bird enthusiasts that want them for their personal collection, to people who want them for singing competitions." The people who own these songbirds, at least the ones I meant, were not uniform. Although they were all Cuban or of Cuban descent some of them just collected them because they love birds -- the same way other people might collect something else.

Szionderp8 karma

Hi Dina! Longtime reader of NatGeo. Thanks for doing this AMA! Do you think you may focus on illegal trade and shipment of parrot species once you finish covering the illegal songbird trade? What topics do you see your career covering with NatGeo?

nationalgeographic10 karma

Thanks for reading and for the suggestion! There are so many stories that I want to tackle here at NatGeo! The difficulty is often choosing which ones to devote extensive time and resources to when, sadly, there are so many animal exploitation and wildlife crime stories out there that need to be addressed and could benefit from having a spotlight shone on them with a NatGeo artcile. My colleague, Christine Dell'Amore, actually did an excellent story on the parrot trade last year that may interest! https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/photo-ark-parrots/

glove086 karma

If these people who cage birds love them so much, why do they cage them? Have you gotten to the psychology of this issue at all and do you think there is any way to change their perspective (or maybe their children’s perspective)?

nationalgeographic4 karma

That's a challenging question and one I don't really have the answer to. I think one way to change some people's perspective is to make them aware of the potential damage to the birds, ecosystem, and of course the danger of getting caught! Not everyone can be convinced, however.

yakshack6 karma

Hi Dina, thank you for the AMA! I had only heard about this issue from a random news story a few weeks ago about a man getting caught at an airport trying to smuggle birds into the U.S. and CBP caught him.

My question is, what are some signs individuals can be aware of top help find and report illegal activity?

nationalgeographic10 karma

Smuggling is certainly a significant part of this trade. Law enforcement officers (and law enforcement canines) are trained to help identify these situations at airports and ports of entry, though of course cases do certainly slip through the cracks. In your community, if you see something concerning I would urge you to report it to local officials so that it can be investigated. Communities usually have a hotline for this. In Florida, for example, it is: https://myfwc.com/contact/ Thanks for your interest and wanting to help!

riri_newman6 karma

How did you start your journalism career?

nationalgeographic15 karma

Thanks for asking! I actually knew I was passionate about impact journalism from an early age. A childhood hero was Elizabeth Cochrane (better known as Nellie Bly)! My first journalism job was working for my local newspaper in N.H. during high school -- shout out to The Nashua Telegraph -- the paper let local high schoolers write a weekly column about what was happening in their schools.communities and I did that for a few years. It was a great learning experience!

fox_anonymous5 karma

Hi, Dina! Thanks for all the work you do. Do you plan on tackling the horrors of the animal agriculture industry? The conditions of these creatures is unnecessarily cruel and unlike anything seen in human existence. Thank you.

nationalgeographic7 karma

Certainly an important, complex and vast issue. Always looking for an important, nuanced story in that space. If you have ideas feel free to reach out - [[email protected]](mailto:[email protected]).

Fuzzba114 karma

Florida is a lawless place full of crime, law enforcement is already stretched thin, corrupt, and can't keep the peace (I just left after 7 years). There are animals on the brink of extinction in countries that need the exposure & would actually appreciate it. So why songbirds? Why Florida?

nationalgeographic19 karma

Thanks for your question. I chose to focus on this story because I think we too often forget that animal exploitation and crime is not just a problem far away in other parts of the world; we have these issues right here at home. I was fascinated that this is such an important issue in Florida. I was told it's one of the main - if not the primary - focus of its local fish and wildlife enforcement officers. It takes a lot of time and law enforcement resources to try to wrap one's arms around this problem. I thought (and think) this was a story that should be told, both to raise awareness about it and also because it's surprising why these birds are being caught!

elegant_madness13 karma

Hi Dana! These stories are amazing! I have two related questions:

  1. How did wildlife crime and animal exploitation become your beat?
  2. How do you discover new stories to write about?

Thank you so much for doing this AMA! Your work is amazing, important and also emotionally exhausting!

nationalgeographic5 karma

Thanks for reading and for your kind and encouraging words! Glad you enjoy my work! I was fortunate to get this job because few media outlets have a team dedicated to wildlife crime and animal exploitation. National Geographic is one of the only ones! This actually became my beat when I started this job, back in October. Previously I mainly wrote about science and medicine. I have written on the environment in the past, but I was not focused specifically on this slice of environmental issues. I discover my new stories most often from talking to people who work in this space who tell me about things they are seeing in their jobs -- often without realizing it would be a bigger issue I would want to write about!

YumYuk3 karma

Can these birds be domesticated and then breed them to become animals could own legally?

nationalgeographic23 karma

Good morning and thanks for the question! Nope. In the U.S., if you have an illegal animal, its offspring would also be illegal.

nationalgeographic9 karma

No, in the U.S. the offspring of an illegally captured animal would also be illegal.

hangry_lady3 karma

How do you think we has humans can find a balance between our love for animals/desire to own them and conservation of wildlife?

nationalgeographic7 karma

It's a tough issue, I know. As Michelle Davis said in the story, "Birds are not meant to be in a cage." I think we need to learn to appreciate wildlife from a respectful distance and to work to keep their habitats safe and available. Some of these songbird trappers and owners, for example, do truly love their birds and want to take good care of them, but that doesn't change the fact that they are wild animals that really don't belong - legally or otherwise -- in our homes. We can marvel about the beauty and wonder of wildlife with a walk through the woods and I think it's a wonderful thing when we do.

RDubs11232 karma

Good morning and thanks for taking the time for an AMA. I'm curious how the poachers are actually catching the song birds and how they go about selling them?

nationalgeographic4 karma

Thanks for your question. I get into some of these details in the story—both about how they trap them and also that the trades/sales often occur among friends or even at local pet stores. Some of this business is also illegally smuggling birds in from Cuba. Thanks for reading!

Madreverse2 karma

Hello :) Great AmA!
How did you start working with/for National Geographic and has it always been about about animal crimes and exploitation?

nationalgeographic6 karma

Thanks! I started at National Geographic relatively recently -- back in October. I have written mostly on medicine and science during my career (doing daily reporting, features, and investigations), but I was very excited about the prospect of focusing on investigations around wildlife crime and animal exploitation and to be part of NatGeo! I'm the senior reporter on a small, fantastic team called Wildlife Watch, here at National Geographic. We focus exclusively on these issues! Please do check out more of our work here: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/wildlife-watch/

hacktvist2 karma

What are your recommendations for the common people, who see these crimes/ exploitation going around in their society ?

nationalgeographic5 karma

Thanks for the question and wanting to make a difference! I would say two things: If you see any of these crimes/animal exploitation occurring in your community I would urge you to contact local authorities so they can be investigated. In Florida, for example, you can report such incidents several ways (see here for more information, if you're based there https://myfwc.com/contact/). There are similar hotlines throughout the country.

The second thing I'd say, is to please do what you can to raise awareness about these issues -- both that these behaviors are illegal and also can be very harmful to individual species or to ecosystems. With that in mind, it would be very helpful if you share this story with the people in your life and network as well. Thanks!

kaosaddi0 karma

How many times did you listen to Sia’s Bird Set Free while writing this article for Nat Geo?

nationalgeographic3 karma

None! I'll have to check it out.

DrHivesPHD-2 karma

What are your thoughts on fried chicken?

nationalgeographic4 karma

I'm a fan! But I like buffalo wings better. Why? Are you offering to make me some?

DrBatmanThe3rd-2 karma

Do you think the California wildfires was actually an alien attack?

nationalgeographic6 karma

No. Sadly I think we can do a lot of damage to our planet without any alien assistance.

Intergalactic_Toast-7 karma

How much do songbirds sell for? Asking for a friend

nationalgeographic4 karma

I try not to provide too much information on pricing because I certainly don't want to inspire anyone to get into the business. It's deeply unfortunate that we're putting a price on wild animals' freedom and well-being.