Poachers fined for illegal possession of falcon eggs

Two men caught with seven eggs worth about $30,000 each on the black market


Two men masquerading as nature photographers, one from South Africa and the other from Britain, were caught red-handed in Kuujjuaq last week with a cache of falcon eggs worth thousands of dollars on the international black market.

Ranging from creamy pink to pale yellow, peregrine falcon and gyrfalcon eggs are slightly smaller than chicken eggs, but many times more valuable.

A single falcon egg can fetch up to $30,000 in the Middle East, where hunting with falcons is the sport of royalty.

On May 12, provincial wildlife officials and officers from Quebec’s provincial police, the Sûreté de Québec, nabbed Jeffry Paul Lundrun, 40, of South Africa and Paul Charles Mullin, 34, of Great Britain with seven eggs they had plundered from nests around Kuujjuaq.

On the pretext of scouting sites for photo shoots, the pair had chartered a helicopter to visit nearby cliffs where peregrines and gyrfalcons habitually roost.

But the phony photographers were more interested in the nests than the birds’ behavior, which alerted the suspicion of the helicopter pilot and others.

“Kuujjuaq isn’t a big place and word travels fast. People found their activity strange,” said Guy Tremblay of the Quebec wildlife protection agency.

Police and provincial wildlife protection officials Vallée Saunders and David Watt began an investigation that led to the arrest of the men.

They were charged with six counts of illegal possession of eggs and hunting without a licence and fined a total of $7,250, the maximum permitted by Quebec’s wildlife legislation.

“They had enough money to pay their fines — which amounts to an admission of guilt — and they were freed,” Tremblay said.

The men turned over the eggs and all their gear.

“They had the equipment to preserve the eggs, including a small incubator to store and transport the eggs,” Tremblay said.

The day after they were charged they left Canada. It’s the first time egg poachers have been caught in Quebec.

There wasn’t enough evidence to charge the two with illegal trafficking of eggs, the import and export of which is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

“We can, however, imagine they were linked to some organization,” Tremblay said.

Tremblay said Quebec plans to alert federal officials to the men’s identity so they can’t try to re-enter Canada at some later date.

Meanwhile, the eggs have been sent to a bird of prey recovery centre in St-Hyacinthe, the Union Québécois de récuperation des oiseaux de proie. Five of the eggs arrived in good enough condition to continue their month-long incubation period.

The plan is to eventually return the young birds to the same location they were taken from in Nunavik.

Populations of peregrine falcons and gyrfalcons took a nose-dive after the Second World War, although, thanks to an aggressive release and recovery program, the birds are no longer in danger of extinction in the Arctic.

The introduction of the pesticide DDT in 1945 nearly wiped out falcons, affecting the birds’ fertility as well as the thickness of their egg shells.

That’s because peregrines and gyrfalcons are hunters high on the food chain. Subsisting on ptarmigan, lemmings and other small animals, these predators accumulate toxins with each contaminated animal they consume.

DDT is now banned for use in Canada, but peregrines still show high levels of the pesticide because they migrate every year to Central and South America, where DDT is still used.

However, gryfalcons, the peregrines’ larger cousins, generally winter in the Arctic. For this reason, their exposure to DDT and other toxins has been reduced, and wildlife officials say the gyrfalcon population is in better condition.

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