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June 27, 2013

Protecting Birds on the Brink

Humane Society International/UK

  • Birds of prey are often victims of wildlife crime. Antonio Guarrera

Robbing nests for eggs and chicks is a major threat to the future of endangered birds of prey and HSI/UK is helping combat this wildlife crime by supporting a successful nest monitoring programme in Italy.

Sicily is home to the last population of Bonelli's Eagle (Hieraaetus fasciatus) in Italy. The birds' numbers have declined dramatically over recent decades, and only around 20 breeding pairs remain.

The future of those birds, and their offspring, is under serious threat from nest-raiders who steal eggs and chicks to sell on, illegally, to bird collectors and falconers in Europe and beyond.

With plundered birds fetching up to €15,000 on the black market, wildlife traders have been known to employ poachers to climb the steep cliffs to reach the high eyries of birds, including Bonelli’s Eagles, Egyptian Vultures and Lanner Falcons.

Protecting nests

HSI/UK has been helping protect these vulnerable birds by supporting a small but vital task force of ornithologists and conservations, organized by the local Italian NGOs and the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), who set up camp to monitor the precious nests throughout the breeding season.

In 2012, all 22 of the nests monitored on Sicily were undisturbed and in all 32 chicks fledged, the highest number for many years.

The monitoring took place again this breeding season but, despite the excellent work of the British, German, Italian and Maltese volunteers, unscrupulous poachers managed to steal two unfledged chicks off a nest on 8 May.

The birds were found, along with some Peregrine Falcons, in northern Italy a month later by the CITES Investigation Section of the Italian State Forestry police, and will be returned to the wild as soon as they are fit. The offenders were caught in their workshop, where false rings and forged CITES certificates were also seized, and will be prosecuted on charges of forgery, contravention of bird protection laws and animal cruelty.

Despite this set-back, we're delighted to report that by mid-June, 24 young eaglets had successfully fledged.

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Wildlife crime

Italy's State Forestry police, responsible for enforcing endangered species legislation, recognises the threat such wildlife crime can cause and has stepped up its efforts to end the poaching of nests of endangered birds.

Since 2010, it has seized more than 60 protected birds of prey including Bonelli’s Eagles. The retrieved birds have been released back to the wild from a hacking station close to their home nests or used in a conservation reintroduction programme, similar to that undertaken with an adult male Bonelli’s Eagle released in December 2012.

Species Action Plan

In Europe, the Bonelli's Eagle is considered endangered and an action plan was created with the short term aim of maintaining the existing populations in Europe, and the longer term aim of increasing the population size and encouraging the bird to recolonise parts of its former range.

The decline in the populations is due to destruction of habitat, illegal hunting and the theft of chicks and eggs.

Learn more about our campaign to combat wildlife crime and check out our infographic about the illegal wildlife trade.

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