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Lm30,000 worth of bird and mammal skins seized

Breaking News: Earlier today, we had a tip off that the Police and Customs officers were about to seize hundreds of birds being imported into Malta. This morning we spoke to the Police Inspector in Malta congratulating him on the arrests. Max Farrugia (our Chairman in Malta) sees this as the culmination of work that has been carried out by IAR since 1996 on the illegal shooting of protected birds in Egypt and importation into Malta. Alan Knight, Chief Executive of IAR, added: ’I am delighted that these arrests have been made, it shows excellent cooperation between the various departments involved, I have passed my congratulations onto the Police and Customs officers involved in the seizure!’

The skin of a gazelle confiscated by the Police and Customs at Malta airportThe skins of a gazelle and of various species of birds have been confiscated by the Police and Customs at Malta Airport.

Three men are being held by the police after two of them were allegedly found in possession of about 700 skins of protected birds and 23 mammals and three reptiles on their return from Cairo via Athens on Monday night. The third was arrested yesterday, police sources said.The value of the haul is estimated to exceed Lm30,000, the police said. Customs officers said this was the biggest single haul of skins made at any one time. The skins were in four suitcases. Customs last year intercepted seven suitcases containing a total of 447 bird skins, the vast majority of which were protected species, some listed in appendix one of the CITES convention, which prohibits their trade.

Skins of birds of prey such as black shouldered kites, steppe eagles, long-legged buzzards and other large or colourful birds such as pelicans, storks and little green bee eaters as well as of mammals, including several foxes, a gazelle, mongoose and reptiles were among the items allegedly found in the luggage of two of the three men in detention.

Skins of various species of birds confiscated by the Police and Customs at Malta AirportSources said inspectors from the Customs enforcement unit detected skins in four suitcases when incoming luggage were being scanned at random. The luggage was monitored and one of the two men who was detained collected two of the suitcases and proceeded through the green channel before being stopped. The second man said he only had some clothes to declare, the sources said. Police officers from the administrative law enforcement unit were called to investigate further and the two men, a 26-year old from Kirkop and a 38-year-old from Cospicua, who were suspected to be couriers, were arrested. A 35-year old man from Dingli was arrested yesterday in connection with the find.

From the condition of the plumage, it appeared that most of the birds were shot between March and early May. The sources said it had long been suspected that Maltese hunters who went on shooting holidays in winter were leaving birds in cold stores in Egypt to be smuggled in summer, when the hunting season is closed and the volume of work for Customs is heavier, with monitoring perceived to be lower.

The find comes in the wake of an article in the Belgian bird protection magazine L’homme et l’oiseau, the magazine of the Belgian bird protection group.The magazine has focused on the shooting of protected birds in Egypt by Maltese hunters.A four-page article said Maltese hunters go on tours and pose as tourists, booking via internet, renting guns in Egypt and decimating bird life in several areas from Port Said in the North to Abu Simbel, close to the Sudan border. "Birdwatchers who visited Abu Simbel (in the Aswan province) and Lake Qarun in the El Fayoum province, saw uncontrolled bird hunting, particularly by Maltese hunters. A bird watcher who has repeatedly visited Egypt said bird populations at Lake Nasser, near Abu Simbel, as well as at Lake Qarun, in the Fayoum region, have been decimated by the hunters" the article stated.

The number of birds at Lake Qarun, a protected area in the Fayoum region, has also been noted to have decreased considerably and resident birds are noticeably absent even in the surrounding areas.

"Local people confirmed that Maltese hunters shoot anything that flies. Hunters compete in who gets the biggest bag. Dead birds are stored in the freezers of hotels. The birds the hunters want to keep are skinned and the unwanted ones are distributed to the locals" the magazine stated. "Italian hunters were also very keen shooters but are not so interested in taking the trophies back home" the magazine stated. Nigel Jones, managing director of Ornitholidays, who was leading a birding tour in Egypt, was quoted as saying he and his group visited Abu Simbel and El Fayoum and saw a hunter kill a spotted redshank in a reserve at El Fayoum."

"At Abu Simbel, the boatman we used had his boat rigged out for shooting and he told us he ferried many Maltese hunters. We did not see any Maltese people hunting but saw the consequences of hunting as there were very few birds" the report said. People posing as tourists go in the Summer and smuggle luggages full of bird skins into Malta. Imported birds end up being illegally sold in Malta, where a Verraux’s eagle fetches Lm400 and short-toed eagles fetch around Lm150, the article claims. It notes the finds made by Maltese Customs officers which included 38 eagles (including 23 steppe eagles), nine ospreys, 11 eagle owls, two barbary falcons, 13 lanner falcons, 20 flamingoes, 11 white storks, several spoonbills and pelicans. There were even species that could be commonly shot in Malta, such as greenshanks, black-winged stilts, black-headed gulls, common snipes and turtle doves."

Efforts to obtain a comment from the Egyptian Embassy in Malta were unsuccessful.