[WATCH] Italy police bust poachers who smuggled songbirds to Malta

The organised group from Reggio Calabria had built up a network of illegal buyers and sellers of protected birds in northern Italy and Malta

Reggio Calabria carabinieri inspect the birds illegally captured by the organised network
Reggio Calabria carabinieri inspect the birds illegally captured by the organised network
Eight poachers with Malta connection arrested in Italy

An organised group with a network of illegal buyers and sellers of protected birds in Malta and northern Italy has been stopped in an Italian operation assisted by Europol.

Thousands of rare and protected birds have been sold to poachers and restaurants in Italy to prepare expensive gourmet food.

The organised group behind the crime from Reggio Calabria in southern Italy, was dismantled on Friday by the Operational Anti-Poaching Unit of the Carabinieri Corps in cooperation with the Carabinieri Forestry and Provincial Command of Reggio Calabria.

Nine people were arrested on suspicion of belonging to a criminal network aimed at illegally trading protected wildlife, mostly songbirds, which are protected under the Berne Convention. Europol supported the investigation by providing intelligence and analysis services to Italian law enforcement authorities.

In recent years the criminal group had built up a network of illegal buyers and sellers of protected birds in northern Italy and Malta. The modus operandi was structured in different phases: first, poachers identified the areas with a high bird population and put out food to attract as many birds as possible.

Birds were then placed inside small cages to attract other birds with their singing and then caught in a net. It is estimated that a poacher can capture no less than 200-300 birds per day, but as just a few species are profitable on the illegal market, the majority of them were left for dead.

During police operations in 2016 around 3,800 dead specimens of various protected species were seized; in 2017 almost 3 000 birds were seized (300 found dead). Most likely more than 80,000 birds have been sold in recent years causing significant environmental damage in the region.

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