A Maltese man has been arrested in Italy after he was caught trying to smuggle 1,000 protected songbirds to Malta.

Police sources confirmed that they had been in contact with their Italian counterparts after a routine drugs inspection of vehicles near a Calabrian train station uncovered hundreds of protected finches and other song birds hidden in concealed compartments.  

The Guardia di Finanza announced that it had made the discovery near Calabria’s Villa San Giovanni train station on Sunday. The arrest is believed to have taken place in January.  

A van with a Maltese licence plate, driven by a Maltese national was pulled over on its way to Sicily. 

The Maltese national, identified as Albert Satariano, 68, is understood to still be in custody in Calabria. 

During the inspection, officers discovered a false bottom in which 34 cages had been hidden, stuffed with finches.

The Italian police released a video of the inspection on Sunday afternoon.

Most of the birds were released into the wild after they were certified in good health by a vet. 

The practice of trapping finches has been banned in Malta since an EU court judgment in 2018

However, last year the government alloed finch trapping, saying trappers would be helping to collect scientific data on bird migration as part of a study. 

Back in 2018, Times of Malta had reported on the illegal songbird smuggling trade, in which specimens are sold to be used as live decoys for trappers.

There is no legal songbird trapping season in Malta, but trappers normally take to the fields next month. Sources said the birds discovered in Italy would have likely be destined from the small cages in trapping sites across the Maltese countryside.

February 1: An earlier version of this report stated that Satariano had been arrested on Sunday. 

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