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Custom officers seize protected bird skins at Malta airport

Confiscated bird skinsTwo Maltese men arriving on a scheduled flight from Rome have been caught carrying 22 skins of protected bird species.

They were subjected to a random luggage check after trying to pass through the EU members blue exit. The customs officer noticed that these two Maltese citizens, who qualify to pass through the blue ’nothing to declare’ exit had tags indicating that prior to their arrival in Rome they had been in Egypt, a non-EU country.

This aroused the customs officers’ suspicions and they asked the men to open their luggage for inspection. In the bags of the two Maltese men the officers found 22 skins of protected bird species. Both men were held at Customs until the police arrived, and during questioning it is believed that they admitted bringing the skins over from Egypt.

The police then called in an official from the Environment Section who certified that the skins were protected species. Among the skins were a long-eared owl, a black-shouldered kite, an avocet, a red shank, a Smyrna kingfisher, a purple gallinule, a pied kingfisher, a spurred winged plover and a great grey shrike. The skins were confiscated by the police and the men will be arraigned in court in the coming days.

Max Farrugia, Chairman of IAR Malta, has produced several reports in the past on hunting tours in Egypt by Maltese hunters. He explained that such tours are very popular with Maltese and Italian hunters.

"On several occasions in the past the Malta police have confiscated hundreds of bird skins," he explained, adding: "Owing to strict enforcement at our airports, particularly on flights coming from Egypt, hunters and wildlife smugglers try to come via other airports to divert the attention of the customs and police officers. This is not the first time that Maltese citizens had protected species’ skins in their possession and were not coming on a detect flight from Egypt.

"At one time enforcement in Egypt was tightened up following reports from International Animal Rescue Malta on how the birds were being smuggled. But it seems some cases are still slipping through the net. Sources close to the security check officers at airports stated that it isn’t hard to detect the skins on the X-ray machine when people carry them in their luggage."