Rare, endangered gyrfalcons intercepted, rehabilitated and returned to the wild

Rare, endangered gyrfalcons intercepted, rehabilitated and returned to the wild
Monday, 21 August, 2017
Moscow, Russia

Fifteen rare falcons were rescued and rehabilitated in joint effort by International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and ANO “Wild Animal Rescue Centre” (WARC). The raptors are saker and gyrfalcon species. Nine endangered saker falcons were released on August, 3, 2017 in the protected nature territory “Kisliukhinsky” in Altai Region of Russia and on August 16, 2017, six rare gyrfalcons were released back to the wild in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous district. Both species of falcons were seized at the Domodedovo airport, Moscow, on September 13, 2016, when the customs officers discovered the birds in a shipment meant for export. Smugglers had used a CITES export permit in an attempt to export captive bred saker falcons and the highly endangered gyrfalcon, included in the Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Any export of the wild specimens of both species from Russia is prohibited.

“We are very proud of our work to intercept, rehabilitate and release these falcons destined for a lifetime in captivity. The birds whose numbers count to only several dozens of nesting pairs in West Siberia Yamal and Altai, will now live in the wild where they belong. Both species are critically endangered in Russia, their numbers diminish each year due to growing poaching and trafficking” said Masha Vorontsova, IFAW Regional Director Russia and CIS.

Initially, all confiscated birds were housed in the Centre contracted by the Moscow Government for temporary holding of wild animals, but the facilities could not provide the necessary rehabilitation for the falcons to be released back into the wild. IFAW proposed to move a portion of the seized birds to WARC where they could be rehabilitated and prepared for the release.  

One key objective of WARC is, in cooperation with IFAW, to assist customs, enforcement, and wildlife conservation authorities in combating wildlife trafficking and to return animals illegally removed from the wild to their natural habitats.  Special attention is directed animals listed in CITES and the Red Book of the Russian Federation.

IFAW supports activities aimed at rehabilitation of confiscated falcons and their return to the wild.  Due to this support, the Wild Animal Rescue Centre has been able to rescue, rehabilitate and release a large number of birds of prey into secure habitats, including 22 gyrfalcons, 28 saker falcons and one peregrine falcon.  All these birds were seized over time by the General Department for Smuggling Control of the Russian Federal Customs Service, Customs Authorities of Bryansk and Samara, Sheremetyevo airport Customs Office, and customs inspection services of Chkalovsky and Ostafyevo airports.  

The raptors are rehabilitated in a special enclosure at the Wild Animal Rescue Centre, which was constructed with the help of IFAW.  A specialized U-shaped enclosure was designed for the unique recovery needs of rescued falcons. The enclosure helps the falcons strengthen their ability to fly and develop their hunting skills.

Rehabilitation and release of these raptors is critically important, not only for saving of seized birds, but also to help wild population numbers grow. The declining number of wild falcons is caused by the wide-scale poaching of birds of prey, largely driven by the demand of the Arabian markets, where wild caught falcons are highly valued by falconers.

In the last two decades, poaching has led to the catastrophic decline of the gyrfalcon populations in Chukotka and Kamchatka and saker falcon populations in Altai-Sayan region.

Unfortunately, the release of seized falcons that were subjected to trafficking is not a common practice. After their seizure, if the raptors are kept in institutions that cannot provide the conditions necessary for rehabilitation, many falcons quickly lose their viability for release. IFAW and WARC strive to return as many seized birds to the wild as is possible.

Rehabilitation of falcons and their transportation to the release sites require significant financial and human resources, and due to IFAW’s support yet another fifteen birds will supplement wild populations of falcons occurring in Yamal and Altai regions.

About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)

Founded in 1969, IFAW rescues and protects animals around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on social at @action4ifaw and Facebook/IFAW.

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