Rare smuggled falcons released back to the wild

Thursday, December 23, 2010
Moscow, Russia
IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare - www.ifaw.org) announced today that eight endangered gyrfalcons, rescued from a failed smuggling operation in Moscow last month, were successfully released back to the wild. Prior to their release, the birds underwent four weeks of rehabilitation and were transported to the peninsula of Kamchatka, part of the falcon’s winter home range.

The endangered falcons were seized by customs officials on November 21 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. They were found swaddled in cloth, hooded and packed four to a box. The passenger, who checked the cartons as personal luggage, was removed from the plane, bound for the Middle East, and detained.

“We are thrilled to help these wonderful birds return to the wild and contribute to the highly endangered population of gyrfalcons,” said Masha Vorontsova, IFAW’s Russia director. “This is a joyous occasion, but we must keep working hard to protect a species that today is more vulnerable than ever before.”

Every year, an estimated 100 gyrfalcons are illegally captured and transported from the Kamchatka Peninsula. The largest and strongest of falcons; gyrfalcons are prized for falconry with high demand originating from buyers in the Middle East. Wild gyrfalcons can be sold for as much as $50,000 USD on the black market.

There are an estimated 1,000 pairs of gyrfalcons left in the wild in Russia. The species is listed both in the IUCN Red Book of endangered species and on the CITES Appendix I. The latter designation prohibits any international commercial trade of these birds. IFAW works with the Russian environmental watchdog Rosprirodnadzor (Russian Federal Service for Environmental Protection and Enforcement) to help enforce CITES regulations and release the birds back to their natural habitat.

IFAW has rehabilitated and released several seizures of gyrfalcons in Russia and hundreds of endangered birds of prey worldwide; most were victims of illegal trade.

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