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Press release 08.11.2011

Truck with 10,000 dead song birds stopped in Eastern Europe

Bonn/Nagylak. At the weekend Hungarian customs officials stopped a truck loaded with some 10,000 freshly-shot song birds on the border with Romania. According to the Bonn-based Committee Against Bird Slaughter the consignment consisted mainly of Skylarks, an endangered species in Germany and other European countries, but much favoured as a delicacy by Italian gourmets.

Seized by the Hungarian authorities: 10,000 Skylarks and other migrant song birdsSeized by the Hungarian authorities: 10,000 Skylarks and other migrant song birdsVigilant customs officials noticed that some cartons in the Romanian refrigerated truck were different to the remainder containing meat and sausage products. “We immediately decided to do a thorough check of the truck” reported Inspector Linda Jásza of the Nagylak police. The check revealed a gruesome find: countless crates of dead song birds, packed in plastic bags, all neatly labelled. The cartons contained a total of more than 9,000 Skylarks, as well as hundreds of Bluethroats, Goldfinches, Fieldfares, Mistle Thrushes, Reed Buntings and Pied Wagtails. An expert estimated that the birds had been killed with shotguns only a few days earlier.

"We congratulate the Hungarian authorities to this success in the fight against poaching" states Axel Hirschfeld, spokesperson for the Committee Against Bird Slaughter. The conservationists believe that the birds were selectively shot in the Balkans on migration to their winter quarters, for sale to Italian restaurant owners and delicatessens. The trade in shot Skylarks and other song birds is a multimillion business in Italy, costing the lives of hundreds of thousands of song birds every year. The Italian forest police annually seize thousands of illegally acquired wild birds in restaurants and game butchers shops, which always include deliveries of migrant birds smuggled in from the Balkans.

The damage to nature and the environment caused by this illegal trade is enormous. "In this truck alone the numbers of Skylarks seized were equal to the entire Saarland breeding population" Hirschfeld comments. The population of these characteristic birds of the open farmland countryside in Central Europe have declined by almost a half over the past 30 years. In Germany the species is on the Red List of endangered wildlife and plant species and extensive efforts are made for its conservation, by for instance the creation of so-called skylark plots in cereal crops.

The police estimate the total market value of the smuggled birds seized in Nagylak to be about one billion Forints (some 333,000 Euros). Criminal proceedings against the truck driver have been initiated by the Hungarian authorities.