Police Nab Men With Rare Falcons

Two men were detained in Kamchatka after they were found with 38 rare falcons tied up in a truck in the south of the peninsula, police in the Far East Federal District said Tuesday.

The two local residents told police that they were fishing near a village when strangers sold them the rare Gyrfalcons, which were discovered Monday tied up in pairs in cardboard boxes, the Kamchatka regional branch of the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The Gyrfalcon -- the largest of any species of falcon -- is officially listed in Russia's Red Book of endangered species, while the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora lists it as threatened with extinction.

It was unclear what charges the two men might face. Police in Kamchatka, nine time zones east of Moscow, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The birds would have likely been smuggled to the Middle East, where they would have been used for traditional hunting, said Alexei Vaisman, head of WWF-Russia's anti-animal trafficking program. "There is a market for birds of prey, falcons especially," he said.

Kamchatka police decided to free all the falcons that were not injured and hand the other birds over to ornithologists, the police report said. The police investigation is continuing, Vaisman said.

Some 600 birds of prey are illegally exported from Russia to the Middle East every year, Vaisman said, one-third of which come from Kamchatka. The price depends on a bird's condition, but on average, one bird can sell for between $7,000 and $9,000, he added.

The smuggling estimates are conservative, since many birds die before reaching the border, Vaisman said. Hunters take young birds from nests or use nets and snares to catch adult birds.

WWF-Russia is assisting Kamchatka police in the case, Vaisman said, adding that the birds "are in good condition."

Recently, customs officials have cracked down on the trade, Vaisman said. "In the last two years, customs control has really been enforced. There have been numerous seizures," he said.