Two weeks ago a Belgium court sentenced four people to heavy prison sentences and fines, after it found them guilty of illegal trade in protected and endangered birds, including vultures. The case is the result of a long and
judicial inquiry, including international legal cooperation between Belgium, the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Germany, Austria and The Netherlands.
The four individuals have been found guilty of forging breeder's declarations and CITES-certificates for wild-caught birds, mainly birds of prey. The four defendants were sentenced to 4 years (1 year suspended), 2 years (1 year suspended), 18 months (suspended) and 1 year (suspended). The court also imposed fines of 90.000-30.000 and 12.000€.
It was proven that eggs and birds were caught in the wild, in countries like Spain, France and Turkey, and then hand-reared. The accused then obtained illegally CITES-certificates, which allowed them to commercialize the birds.
Bird species involved included, among others, Egyptian Vultures (Neophron percopterus), Spanish Imperial Eagles (Aquila heliaca), Bonelli’s Eagles (Aquila fasciata), Golden Eagles (Aquilachrysaetos), Booted Eagles (Hieraaetus pennatus), Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrines), Merlins (Falco columbarius), Hobbies (Falco subbuteo), Red-footed Falcons (Falco vespertinus), Lesser Kestrels (Falco naumanni), Blackwinged Kites (Elanus caeruleus), Red Kites (Milvus milvus), and Black Kites (Milvus migrans)
The accused set up a well organised criminal organisation, bribed several Police officials and even created an animal zoo. The birds of prey commerce was extremely profitable, with birds of prey sold for between 5 and 10 thousand Euros each
Illegal trade on raptors is a growing concern, particularly to organisations like the VCF, who manages captive breeding networks for conservation (reintroduction). By principle, the VCF objects to any taking of birds from the wild for the several captive breeding networks it manages (Bearded, black and Egyptian vultures). It also signs contracts with Zoos upholding best practice, adherence to the law and avoidance of handrearing and use of EEP animals in flight shows.
The VCF hails this sentence, and hopes that it sends a strong signal to other individuals and crime organisations involved in illegal trafficking of vultures.