38 smuggled Gyrfalcons seized and released back to wild on Kamchatka Peninsula.

Friday, November 14, 2008
Moscow, Russia
Thirty-eight endangered Gyrfalcons were confiscated on Tuesday for illegal transport at one of the roads on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Far-Eastern Russia. The local veterinarians examined them and found most of them fit enough to be released back to the wild on the next day, Wednesday, November 12. A few of the birds had some wing injuries and needed to stay at the local vet station for rehabilitation.

The birds were seized by the local road police. The Gyrfalcons had been transported in a lorry of the local construction workers, the birds were then wrapped with fabric bandages with non-transparent caps on their heads – a typical “smugglers package”. The alleged owners assured the police that they had purchased the birds by chance from an unknown person in one of the villages of the Milkovo district, northern Kamchatka. This statement seemed to be obviously untrue because Gyrfalcons are listed as endangered in the Russian Red Book of endangered species and any unlicensed possession is prohibited. The confiscation was just the first step of the legal process which was started afterwards.

According to the new rules of the Environment Damage Estimation adopted by the Minstry of Natural Resources of Russia in April 2008, the legal damage price of one Gyrfalcon is about 250 000 Roubles (approximately 10 000 USD), thus the whole estimated damage is about 380 000 US Dollars.

“Annually about 100 Gyrfalcons are illegally transported from the Kamchatka Peninsula. The birds live mainly over the North Polar circle migrating insignificantly southwards for winter. There are an estimated 1000 pairs of Gyrfalcons left across Russia, from West to South, with Kamchatka having approximately half of this amount. To our regret, the demand for them as falconry species is growing. This increase occurs especially in autumn, the peak of the falconry season in the Middle East”, said Anna Filippova, PACT manager of IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Weflare – www.ifaw.org)  in Russia.

Experts are sure the smuggling attempt of such a large amount of Gyrfalcons needed a well-organized criminal network on the Kamchatka Peninsula involving catchers, veterinarians, couriers, “business” bosses and other accomplices with well equipped poaching shelters and transporters.

This is at least the third case of the revealed smuggling attempt – earlier this year 5 birds were seized on Kamchatka too and 2 in the Magadan region in Eastern Siberia.

In previous years IFAW was actively involved in the rehabilitation and release of 4 Gyrfalcons in Kamchatka (November 2006) and 18 Saker falcons to Altai mountain region (November 2007). Judging from these repeated and unfortunate incidents, it seems that this year’s will no be the last.

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