November 22nd, 2010
05:00 PM ET

Report: Woman detained after falcons found in luggage

The eight gyrfalcons were swaddled in pillow cases and other cloth when customs officials discovered them at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport.

Customs officials seized eight rare falcons at the Moscow airport after a woman tried to smuggle the wrapped, boxed birds out of the country, the International Fund for Animal Welfare reported.

The gyrfalcons were found in two cartons being loaded into the hold of a plane bound for Damascus, Syria, on Sunday, the group said. The woman who checked the cartons as her luggage was detained and released pending a court appearance.

“At least 100 wild gyrfalcons are smuggled out of Russia each year, primarily driven by demand from the growing popularity of falconry in the Middle East,” said IFAW’s Russia director, Masha Vorontsova, in a statement.

The fast and powerful predator is the world's largest falcon. It breeds in arctic and subarctic regions and preys primarily on large birds, according to the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.

They can command as much as $50,000 on the black market. Officials believe the birds seized at Sheremetyevo International Airport were captured in Russia’s Far East and transported through two security checkpoints and a customs inspection before being detected.

The birds are expected to survive and will reside at IFAW’s raptor rehabilitation center until they are ready to be released into the wild, likely sometime next month.

The gyrfalcon is listed in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red Book of endangered species and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species’ Appendix I. The latter designation, says IFAW, makes any commercial trade involving the birds illegal.

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Filed under: Crime • Environment • Russia
soundoff (117 Responses)
  1. Della

    Not only is selling raptors illegal in most places, its considered highly unethical in the falconry community. Certain species are legal for falconers who are residents in certain states. Used to be anyway. The laws are complicated and ever changing but US falconers did a good job of self policing. There was a big sting operation near Great Falls MT in the 80s that nailed people mostly from TX and Germany sellin birds to the Middle East, maybe this same species, even. I have my own opinions about the sport of falconry, but its an ancient tradition. The birds arent pets.

    November 23, 2010 at 6:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Hipkat13

      Excellent point. Falconers here in the US go out of their way to adhere to the laws of the State and Feds. They, more then anyone, understand that these birds ARE NOT pets. The laws here in the US are strict and complex so as to discourage those persons who are not committed enough to the proper care and training of these birds. Only those people who are properly trained, and legally permitted are allowed the privilege of caring for these exquisite animals.

      November 23, 2010 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  2. Clueless Joe

    So Richard Heene tried to smuggle Balloon Boy in a suit case?

    November 23, 2010 at 7:26 am | Report abuse |
  3. Huh?

    What in the world would someone do with a Falcom? Does it become a $50k diner?

    November 23, 2010 at 8:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Master Falconer

      Huh-- they are falcons, not falcoms. I suggest you obtain a good book on the practice of falconry. It involves the taming, training and hunting wild game with birds of prey. It has been practiced by man for as least 2000 years. Huh?
      I have been practicing this art, aka, hunting sport for 56 years. Huh?!

      November 26, 2010 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Anne

    This is so cruel, poor Falcons

    November 23, 2010 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Master Falconer

      Anne, Actually, it isn't all that cruel! If the birds are also hooded, there is very little trauma. As long as the flight wasn't more than @8 hours (which it isn't), the restraint is quickly forgotton. The Arabs usually take very good care of their hawks and falcons. The restraint on the hawk nearest the photographer, is an Aba. It is a cloth designed by the Arabs and Indians to keep a bird from breaking feathers while their falconry equipment is being placed on their legs. It also used when the falconer has to trim and shape an over-grown beak. It may look bad, but if these falcons are uninjured sub-adults or adult Gyrfalcons they could probably be released in 24 hours rather that 3 or 4 weeks.

      November 26, 2010 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Zeppelin

    Leave birds alone!

    November 23, 2010 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
  6. Michigan girl

    I say we tie her up and let the Falcons have dinner on her

    November 23, 2010 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
  7. Zeppelin II

    Check out the Gryfalcon in the wild...not in captivity....Bigger than a Peregrine Falcon...

    November 23, 2010 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
  8. Zeppelin III

    I like turtles....

    November 23, 2010 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
  9. Zeppelin IV

    me too....

    November 23, 2010 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
  10. downsouth

    Officials believe the birds seized at Sheremetyevo International Airport were captured in Russia’s Far East and transported through two security checkpoints and a customs inspection before being detected.......
    Wonder how much the security checkpoint and customs folks got to let these get by them? Or perhaps this lady did not offer them enough so they ratted on her?

    November 23, 2010 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
  11. jjh

    CITES Identification Guide to Falconry Species:

    November 23, 2010 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  12. Heather

    i despise cruelty to animals but GOOD GOD, freaking hilarious! I love you all!

    November 23, 2010 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
    • bear lover

      hilarious? You are a child, Heather.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. PB

    Its not a surprise to see that the Middle East countries are the source of most problems in the world.

    November 23, 2010 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
  14. Houses Of The Holy

    But Falcons attack and eat other birds.......

    November 23, 2010 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
  15. Physical Graffitti

    What is with the Falcon talk?
    What is going on in places like Kashmir?
    Or in Cambodia where 346 people were Trampled Underfoot?
    Come on ........Korea?

    November 23, 2010 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
    • bear lover

      Oh BS. Are we to forget all about the plight of animals because human beings are doing stupid things to each other?
      If that's the case, animals will never have an advocate. You're just like the rest of those "What about the human babies?" criers–at least human beings have a CHOICE whether to have children or not, and whether to trample or make war with each other. You wouldn't lift a finger for a sick or injured or abused animal, I suppose, until every last human on earth was safe. Get lost.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
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