A Dutch national was fined €7,000 and suspended from obtaining wildlife trade licenses for three years on Monday after he was found guilty of attempting to export several stuffed protected birds. 

The court also ordered the confiscation of 15 birds of different species which were found in the man's suitcase by customs officials as he tried to leave the country.

The birds were found in a box checked as bulky luggage during security checks at the airport earlier in September as the man attempted to fly to the UK, with the majority belonging to a protected species, according to the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA).

"The contents of the box raised the suspicion of Airport Security personnel who passed it through an X-ray machine and alerted ERA officials," said ERA in a statement

"Upon examining the contents in the presence of customs officers, ERA officials determined that the majority were protected species originating from Northern Europe, Africa and South America."

The man's arrest and tracing of the birds was the result of joint investigations by ERA, police, customs and Malta International Airport security, the authority said.  

An X-ray image of the birds in the man's suitcase. Photo: ERA.An X-ray image of the birds in the man's suitcase. Photo: ERA.

Reacting to the judgement, environmental and conservation NGO Birdlife Malta said the case was "proof of the worrying situation of illegal hunting in Malta and abroad by Maltese hunters", who it said were successfully managing to smuggle animal carcasses in and out of the country. 

"Taxidermists in Malta, some of whom organise these hunting trips abroad, are actually illegally mounting these into stuffed birds for collections and illegal trade," the group wrote on Facebook

Describing illegal hunting in Malta and abroad as "well-organised crime", Birdlife Malta said there had been a "massive push in changing laws to soften enforcement of taxidermy in particular.

"The continued pressure by the hunting lobby to dilute and dismantle legal protection and to institutionalise loopholes in the same laws is evidently motivated by the same interest.

"While the apprehension of one culprit is a one-off, the trade of illegally shot-protected birds in Malta is a very common activity and is the main reason why hunters are eager to shoot down protected birds all year round," the NGO said. 

In June, European environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said the European Commission (EC) was “left without a choice” but to take legal action against Malta over bird hunting and trapping.

“Unfortunately, Malta did not prohibit (hunting and trapping) and that left the Commission without a choice but to refer Malta to the European Court of Justice,” he said. 

Two years ago, the EC took Malta to the European Court of Justice for violating a ban on finch trapping.

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