A 56-year-old Irish man has been arrested after airport security detected several strange items concealed in his fanny pack. Items that were alive.
As first reported by the Huffington Post, the unnamed criminal was attempting to smuggle 19 eggs belonging to various species of African predatory birds through Heathrow airport in London on June 26 when he was apprehended by UK Border Force officers. He had just disembarked from a flight arriving from South Africa.
It has not been disclosed what exactly tipped the authorities off, but it could have had something to do with the fact that two of the eggs had just hatched. Two adorable, downy fluff-covered newborn vulture chicks were recovered from the man’s person.
Representatives from the British Home Office told the newspaper that the exact species of the vulture chicks and remaining eggs have yet to be identified, but they have been confirmed to be from various types of raptors, including eagles, hawks, and kites.
It is illegal for unlicensed civilians to be in possession of South African birds of prey under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) – a set of restrictions and regulations on the sale, ownership, and transportation of rare, threatened, or endangered plant and animal species (there are currently more than 35,000 on the list) that has been agreed upon by 183 of the world’s 195 nations.
Thankfully, the tiny birds and birds-to-be are now being cared for at a specialist wildlife facility.
"My officers are experts in their field and will seize anything that contravenes CITES regulations," Grant Miller, head of the national Border Force CITES team at Heathrow, said in a statement. "In this case, by preventing the smuggling attempt they have also ensured that the birds and eggs received the immediate care and attention that they needed."
The statement notes that the man has been released on bail pending further inquiries, and the investigation has been passed to the National Crime Agency.
Protecting at-risk organisms from habitat destruction and climate change is hard enough, but wildlife trafficking – estimated to be a 23 billion dollar (17 billion GBP) annual industry by the World Economic Forum – complicates conservation efforts even further for species that are seen as desirable pets or whose bodies are used in traditional medicine.
Many varieties of wild birds are heavily targeted by illegal traders; bright, tropical species such as parrots are popular as pets thanks to their beauty and personality, whereas raptors are seen as status symbols or sold for meat.
Meanwhile, the pangolin – an endearing, armored, insectivore mammal native to Asia and Africa – is the most trafficked in the world. About 300 pangolins are killed each day because their meat is considered a delicacy and their scales are used in Asian and African folk medicines.