Illegal trade in wild birds highlighted at EU wildlife trade meeting
Friday, November 14, 2008 at 0:01
TRAFFIC in Birds, Conservation awareness, Enforcement

The illegal European trade in wild birds will be discussed today: small songbirds like the Meadow Pipit are especially targetted Click photo to enlarge © Richard Thomas / TRAFFIC Brussels, Belgium, 14 November 2008—The illegal hunting of European wild birds for food in the European Union was raised during COM45, a meeting of EU government agencies involved in regulating wildlife trade in the region.

Wild birds are killed by highly organized criminals in South-east and Central Europe who smuggle the carcasses to northern Italy where they are sold as a delicacy in restaurants.

Many of the species are protected by European Community (EC) and national legislation. They include species in decline like the European Turtle-dove, Common Quail and Ortolan Bunting. The majority are killed using banned hunting techniques, such as catching birds in fine mistnets and attracting birds using tape lures.

“The scale of the problem is a serious conservation concern, but it has received little attention to date,” said Dorottya Papp, Programme Officer in TRAFFIC Europe’s Central Eastern Project Office.

The majority of bird species illegally hunted in Europe are songbirds, such as finches, warblers, pipits and buntings, which are protected under international treaties, EU and national legislation, particularly the EU’s Birds Directive.

According to research by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, hundreds of thousands of birds are illegally killed and exported in an industry worth an estimated EUR10 million per year.

In 2003, an Italian court determined that two hunting tourism firms had helped smuggle into Italy more than two million birds, shot in Serbia over a six year period.

During the Italian Forestry Corp’s “Balkan Birds Operation”, a trailer was seized in November 2001 carrying 12 tonnes of deep-frozen birds: 120,700 specimens comprising 83 species, 68 of them under a permanent hunting ban, and 33 of them rare species.

The European Turtle-dove is frequently hunted illegally and is in decline throughout much of Europe Click photo to enlarge © Richard Thomas / TRAFFIC   In recent years, the centre of illegal hunting has shifted from Hungary to Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, but also occurs in countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania and Croatia. The main transit countries are Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary, from where the birds are exported to Italy.

“The heavy involvement of Italy in the illegal trade of wild protected birds from Eastern Europe is undeniable,” said Massimiliano Rocco, TRAFFIC Europe’s National Representative in Italy and Head of WWF Italy’s Species, TRAFFIC & Timber Trade Programmes.

“The Italian Government needs to co-operate with other national agencies and authorities to end this illicit trade through increased enforcement activities.”

Rocco suggested the Italian authorities should also promote an information campaign in collaboration with hunting organizations, to make hunters aware of national hunting laws outside Italy and potential penalties they face if breaking them.

“TRAFFIC urges the authorities in Italy to raise awareness of this illegal trade amongst consumers, enforcement officers and the judiciary, and its impact on wild bird populations,” said Dorottya Papp.

“Better co-operation and information exchange between enforcement officers across Europe is key to tackling the illegal trade in wild birds, including information on the equipment used by illegal hunters and methods used to conceal their cargoes.” said Ms Papp.

Existing channels for information exchange include Interpol’s Ecomessage, Customs Risk Information Forms and the EU-TWIX database.

A TRAFFIC brochure aimed at raising the issue of illegal hunting with enforcement authorities in the EU and neighbouring countries was released during COM45. Its production was financially supported by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.

The trade in live songbirds in Europe was highlighted earlier this decade. Large numbers of finches were being trapped in the United Kingdom and illegally exported to Malta, where they were sold as cagebirds.

For more information:
Dorottya Papp, Programme Officer TRAFFIC Europe – Central Eastern Project Office

Massimiliano Rocco, TRAFFIC Europe National Representative in Italy & Head of Species, TRAFFIC & Timber Trade Programmes, WWF Italy, email:


* The illegal trade in wild birds for food through South-east and Central Europe (PDF, 60 KB)

* Ecomessage is Interpol’s reporting system that systematically accepts environmental crime data and enters the figures into a computerized data collection facility at the General Secretariat.

* EU-TWIX: the European Union Wildlife Information eXchange database that includes an internal mailing list and a seizure database available for enforcement officers only.


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