Arab Sheikhs in Russian Falcon Smuggling Probe

MOSCOW, December 5 (RIA Novosti) – The Russian authorities may seize and release 49 rare birds of prey brought into the country by two Arab princes without the required permits, a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Russia representative said on Wednesday.

The princes arrived in the southern republic of Kalmykia in late November with their birds, the WWF’s Natalya Dronova said.

The birds were intended for a local exhibit, according to a letter from the Federal Customs Service published by online tabloid.

The collection includes a peregrine falcon and several gyrfalcons and saker falcons, all of them endangered species, which were previously smuggled out of Russia, Dronova claimed.

The princes have never produced any documentation permitting transport of the protected birds across a state border, Amirkhan Amirkhanov, deputy chief of the Federal Inspection Service for Natural Resources Use, told RIA Novosti.

If the princes fail to produce the required permits, the birds may be confiscated and then either released into the wild or put into falcon shelters, Dronova said.

The princes, identified in the customs service letter as Mohammed Bin Turki Bin Saud al-Kabeer and Saud Bin Badr Bin Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Saud, were set to leave Russia on Thursday, Dronova said, while tabloid gave Wednesday as the departure date. The discrepancy could not be immediately reconciled.

A source at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said it was not aware of the situation and requested clarification from their counterparts in Riyadh, who had not commented as of Wednesday afternoon.

Thirty-three of the princes’ birds could have been in fact illegally purchased in Russia during the trip, Oled Mitvol, a former environmental official-turned-populist politician, told

Falcons can be bought for $1,000 to $1,200 in Russia, while in Saudi Arabia, prices range between $30,000 and $50,000, Mitvol said.

Russia is a major supplier of rare hunting birds for Arab countries, where they are in high demand with local nobility, said Alexei Vaisman, the head of the Russian branch of TRAFFIC, a non-profit group combatting wildlife trafficking.

Poaching for profit in Russia is made easy by cumbersome, obsolete and overly lax legislation on wildlife trafficking, though a draft law amending the worst shortcomings is expected to be debated in the federal parliament next year, Vaisman said at a press conference in Moscow.


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