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Rare Birds Confiscated in Russia
MOSCOW - March 19 - The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW - www.ifaw.org) announced today that 6 highly-endangered Gyrfalcons were confiscated by Russian authorities at a military airport near Moscow during an attempted smuggling operation. The Russian environmental watchdog Rosprirodnadzor (Russian Federal Agency for Nature Resources Supervision) has handed over the birds to IFAW and Moscow-based Wild Animal Rescue Center (WARC) for rehabilitation and possible release back to the wild. Gyrfalcons are prized by falconers and can fetch anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 on the black market.
At the moment all 6 birds are alive and receiving veterinary care. The birds were discovered packed tightly in a cardboard box and in very poor condition. Only 1 of 6 birds has begun to eat on its own while the rest depend on force-feeds to survive.
As few as 2,000 Gyrfalcons remain in the wild in Russia. Their main habitat is above the Polar Circle, from the Kola Peninsula to Chukotka. Smugglers target female falcons due to their larger size, superior hunting skills, and higher prices. The demand for Gyrfalcons threatens the population with extinction.
"Immediately after the seizure, one of the birds became very weak and we were concerned that she would not make it through the first night. Gyrfalcons are listed in the Russia Red Book as critically endangered and completely banned for trade and export under CITES. Although the capture of this species in Russia is illegal, dozens of these wild birds are seized by customs, police or special service in Moscow airports annually", says IFAW's Grigory Tsidulko.
The birds will be treated and monitored for the next week. Once nursed back to health they will be flown 6,800 miles (11,000 km) to Kamchatka for release back to their original habitat.