Nearly 500 birds were found in deplorable conditions on the breeding grounds, sparking outrage from Polish and Italian BirdLife Partners OTOP and Lipu, alongside the Committee Against Birds Slaughter (CABS). By immediately joining forces, they managed to take action which helped authorities press charges against the 54-year-old Italian.
Facing charges of animal abuse and illegal possession of animals, the accused potentially faces a prison sentence of up to five year. The police have imposed supervision and a travel ban for the perpetrator. The 456 confiscated birds are now being transported to the Pomeranian Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Ostoja, Poland, for comprehensive care and rehabilitation.
The trapper shrewdly leveraged his breeding permit, which authorized the importation of 20 bird species from Italy for breeding purposes in Poland. These included thrushes, larks, pipits, chaffinches, yellowhammers, mistle thrushes, and bearded tits. However, investigations unveiled a troubling truth: the so-called ‘offspring’ were actually captured from the wild. Subsequently, the birds were equipped with altered leg rings to deceitfully assert a breeding origin before being transported to Italy, allegedly to participate in exhibitions and singing competitions.
But upon crossing the border to Italy, the birds had their rings removed and were sent to the catering industry, or to be used as decoys to attract migrating songbirds, ultimately becoming targets for hunters. Alarming concerns have arisen regarding the profitable illegal trade of protected species in Italy, where these birds can command high prices or find their way onto dinner plates, driven by the longstanding tradition of consuming songbirds.
Suspicions about this case first arose in 2022, but the investigation was initially dropped despite having evidence in place. But OTOP, LIPU and CABS’s persistence, coupled with the discovery of new evidence involving tampered leg rings, legal proceedings in Poland were reignited. A subsequent police raid in November 2023 exposed almost 500 birds and 33 nets, exposing a broader wildlife trafficking network. According to CABS, the man arrested in Poland serves as the ringleader of a smuggling group believed to have trafficked thousands of live songbirds from Eastern Europe to Italy in recent years. Estimates suggest that between 16,000 and 20,000 birds may have passed through the fabricated breeding facility.
The Italian is set to stand trial in Poland next spring, facing charges of animal abuse and the illegal acquisition of protected wildlife. Concurrent investigations are ongoing in Italy, reflecting the gravity of the transnational operation. The case exposes potential flaws in breeding permit systems, prompting calls for a re-evaluation of Poland’s role as a supplier of protected species.
This incident sheds light on a cross-border wildlife trafficking scheme, revealing weaknesses in permit systems and the importance of international law enforcement collaboration. Public awareness and stricter controls are crucial in combating such illicit activities and safeguarding endangered species. The successful resolution of this case underscores the significance of collaboration among nature conservation NGOs operating across borders, showcasing the united efforts of OTOP, Lipu, and CABS in preserving our wildlife heritage.
Pictures by: CABS (Komitee gegen den Vogelmord)