x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Falcon smuggler arrested at airport

Iraqi preparing to board Dubai flight with four rare birds in his suitcase has been held in Kyrgyzstan.

Saker falcons are large, migratory birds popular with Arab falconers. The Iraqi man had four of them hidden in his suitcase.
Saker falcons are large, migratory birds popular with Arab falconers. The Iraqi man had four of them hidden in his suitcase.

DUBAI // A man who was preparing to board a flight from Kyrgyzstan to Dubai has been arrested after security staff found four rare falcons in his suitcase.

Initial reports mistakenly identified the suspected smuggler as an Emirati, but the press office at Manas International Airport, near the capital, Bishkek, yesterday confirmed that he was an Iraqi.

"He was carrying saker falcons, they are restricted," said an official. "Our employees watching the X-ray screen saw the falcons in his baggage and called national security and he was arrested."

The falcons were discovered on Monday and the suspect remained in custody last night.

The saker falcon is a large bird that has long been a favourite among Arab falconers.

It is listed as vulnerable in the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species and the number of birds in the wild is decreasing. Protected under international law, it also appears in Kyrgyzstan's red book of rare and threatened species.

The Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi is involved in an Dh8.6 million breeding project designed to safeguard the population of falcons in Mongolia.

Dr Elsayyed Mohamed, the programme manager at the Dubai office of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said Kyrgyzstan was one of the established routes through which saker falcons are brought illegally to the Gulf.

A smuggler transporting the birds to Dubai without papers issued under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) would break two federal laws.

"Smuggling falcons in a suitcase is a violation of Law number 11 of 2002 regarding the monitoring of the international wildlife trade if he carried them without Cites documents," he said. "Second, it is a violation of Law number 16 of 2007 regarding animal welfare because he was not importing the birds in proper conditions."

The flight time from Bishkek to Dubai is about 3 hours and 45 minutes.

"We have seen cases like this before and mostly the falcons die or are left in a very bad condition and die later," said Dr Mohamed. "A bird in a suitcase on a three to four-hour flight will mostly not survive and even if it survives it would be expected to die within the next few days."

He said it was difficult to say how much the falcons would have fetched on the black market.

"A smuggler always expects high prices but there is a lot of variation in this. It depends on the age, the training, the health … a lot of things."

"We've seen cases of smuggling involving precious falcons and cases where people have tried to smuggle falcons that have no value at all because they are not suitable for falconry."

Ayesha Kelaif, an Emirati who runs the Dubai Animal Rescue Centre in Al Barsha, said: "People who smuggle wildlife through airports are greedy and selfish - they have no passion for anything, they only want to make money.

"It's an animal, so don't chuck it in a suitcase. You wouldn't chuck your children in a suitcase. It's disgusting."

csimpson@thenational.ae