A message from Angelo Citro arrived via WhatsApp on Friday. He had shocking news: Domenico Mungiguerra’s birds had been stolen.
For those of you who don’t know him, Domenico keeps a small stud of Lizards near Aquino, Italy. It is a very traditional set-up, with an attractive timber bird house and simple box cages; most British fanciers would feel at home. From here he has developed one of the best strains of Lizard canaries in the world, as his multiple medals at the World Show attest. To give you an idea of the quality in depth of his stud, he bred 40 birds in 2021 and 25 of them were good enough to enter in the World Show!
His birds are admired by his fellow exhibitors even though they are in direct competition. Jules Etienne wrote to me after the World Show in Zwolle:
“Le plus lesé dans l’aventure est certes Dominico Mungiguerra qui avait une superbe femelle dorée casquée, pour moi le meilleur lizard de l’exposition qui a été royalement gratifiée de 89 points.”
(The most injured in the adventure is certainly Domenico Mungiguerra who had a superb clear cap gold hen, for me the best lizard in the show which was royally rewarded with 89 points.)
Joe Coakley concurred and sent me these two photos of the gold hen:
Sadly, high success also attracts the attention of people with low principles. Bird thefts are all too common, and some hit the headlines. I recall two notorious cases in Britain.
The first was a crossbill x bullfinch hybrid owned by Wendy Woodford who, it was rumoured, had paid £3000 for it. The bird clearly had no breeding value but it was unique, the first of its kind that had ever been bred, and destined for a successful show career. Fortunately that uniqueness helped her to trace the bird and eventually recover it despite the curious reluctance of the police to get involved (1).
Another was the infamous occasion when a number of Phil Warne’s top Border canaries were stolen from a specialist show in 2012. A total of 19 birds with a claimed value of £35,000 were stolen, 12 of which were his. As I recall, it was a two day event and Mr. Warne had all top seven birds in show. The thieves simply hid in a storeroom when the show hall was locked up on the Saturday evening. When everyone had left, they picked the best birds and escaped by opening a window. You can view the news story here .
Lizard canaries may not be in in the same financial league as these two examples, but they still get stolen. Gianmarco Orazi won gold medals for both gold and silver Lizards at the World Show in Bari, only to lose them after a break-in. Jules Etienne was also a victim, having one of his clear cap silver hens stolen from the World Show in Matosinhos in 2016. I covered the story here.
In Domenico’s case it was straightforward burglary. He lives with his wife and parents in a villa in a quiet village; the bird house is in the garden. No one heard anything; their dog did not bark. The thieves broke in by stealth and took away his entire stock, leaving only some siskins and a few Lizards in an aviary. He reported the incident to the police and was told there had been two similar cases in the area.
That suggests an organised gang, but who were the birds intended for?
It is possible that the thieves didn’t know the quality of the birds they’d stolen and may sell them cheaply for a quick profit. The more likely answer is that the birds were stolen to order. Domenico’s birds are in demand throughout the world. Genuine breeders are happy to work with a bird or two from Domenico, but someone wanted the entire bloodline without having to work for it.
Angelo thinks it is unlikely to be a local breeder because the Italian Lizard scene is a small world and Domenico’s birds “can be recognised 1 km away”. That leaves the likelihood that the birds are destined for a foreign country, and possibly another continent.
All I can do is to ask my readers to look out for birds bearing a ring with Domenico’s code FOI-XA75, or more likely, a number of top quality birds appearing at a breeder’s establishment with no ring at all.
Bird theft is a nasty business. Even if the birds are of no great financial value, they are their owner’s pride and joy; their loss is painful. For a breeder like Domenico it is even more traumatic because his strain was created by over twenty years of hard work, skill and dedication. His creation was unique and will not be easy to replace, but Domenico has the skill to do it.
Following a video call with Angelo and Domenico tonight I am delighted to report that Domenico intends to rebuild his stud. He has friends who will let him have birds from his bloodline and he still has a few birds that the thieves left behind. He is determined that the thieves will not win.
All genuine Lizard fanciers will wish him well.
1 There is more to this story, which Wendy told me, but this isn’t the place to share it.