Nearly 300 birds worth €1m seized from Spanish-Moroccan smuggling ring

The scheme involved smuggling exotic birds on buses from Spain to Morocco and other North African states

Exotic birds were recovered by Spanish Civil Guard’s Environment Protection Service (Guardia Civil - SEPRONA). Courtesy Guardia Civil - SEPRONA

A joint police operation has busted an exotic-bird smuggling ring, arresting 28 people and seizing birds worth more than €1 million (Dh4.2m).

The investigation, code-named Oratrix and led by the Spanish Civil Guard’s Environment Protection Service, Portuguese Republican National Guard and the Moroccan Royal Guard in conjunction with Europol, recovered 280 endangered exotic birds, including macaws, parrots and cockatoos. The team also found 400 marijuana plants.

The birds were discovered in the Spanish cities of Malaga, Murcia, Granada, Alicante and Asturias, and were destined to be sold in North Africa, particularly Morocco where the group had a member, using fake documents.

Once sold, birds would be smuggled out of Spain hidden on buses headed to Africa, and delivered to their buyers. This was the best case scenario for unknowing bird buyers – some would pay for a bird from the group online, but never receive the animal.

Europol says parrot smuggling is on the rise, with some birds fetching hundreds of thousands of euros on the black market.

“The demand driving this illicit trade comes from collectors and breeders, but also citizens who want them as pets," Europol said in a statement. “However, this desire to own such exotic birds is killing them off.”

In addition, many purchasers do not understand the hard work that goes into caring for an exotic pet.

“Exotic birds are not ‘domesticated’ even when they are bred in captivity. Unlike dogs and cats, parrots retain their wild needs and instincts,” a warning on the Animal Welfare Institute’s website reads.

"Many consumers purchase parrots when the birds are very young and are often given inadequate information on their care … Owners may find themselves unwilling or ill-prepared to give lifetime care for a bird who can live 60 years and beyond."
All but two known species of parrot are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which restricts or outright bans trading in certain species of animal and plant. Since its inception in 1975, 181 countries have signed up to the treaty.