Rare falcons rescued from poachers in Morocco

About two years ago Karim Rousselon shared with us the story of how a Swedish Peregrine Falcon was rescued from poachers at Casablanca. The same story happened again last November with a Peregrine Falcon from Finland and a Saker Falcon. This account is based on the report by K. Rousselon and his co-authors published today.

The Finnish Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus):

An adult male Peregrine Falcon of the peregrinus subspecies was captured by poachers on 1 November 2017 in the province of Médiouna adjacent to Casablanca. The bird was fitted on the left tarsus with a golden metal ring bearing the inscription ‘Museum Zool Helsinki Finland’, and on the right tarsus with a blue ring bearing the inscription ‘C5’ (photo 1).

This bird was ringed in a nest located on the ground in a peat bog on 14 July 2013 in northern Finland, about 50 km northeast of the town of Oulu.

The bird was released the same day by the poachers thanks to the negotiations led by the Moroccan Association of Falconry and Raptor Conservation (AMFCR).

The Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug)

The Saker Falcon is categorised as globally ‘Endangered’ in the IUCN Red List. The Saker Falcon being an eastern species is very rare in Morocco. There are only four previous records in the country:

  • A bird captured near Essaouira at the end of the 19th century,
  • A bird captured at 200 Km south of Casablanca in May 1963,
  • A young female ringed and tracked by satellite in June 2009 in Hungary. It flew over Morocco and crossed to Mauritania where she was found dead at Dakhlet Nouadhibou in September 2009.
  • A young bird photographed south of Tangier on 14 September 2012 by Javier Elorriaga (see photo 3 below). In addition to Javi, the bird was observed also by Dick Forsman, Antonio Román Muñoz, Micah Scholer and Jay Carlisle. Note: the authors of this report (Rousselon et al. 2018) missed this observation and mentioned only the first three ones.
Rescued from poachers and fitted with GPS transmitter:

A Saker Falcon illegally captured on 27 November 2017 by poachers in the Casablanca region. On 3 December, it was seized by the competent authorities and handed over to the AMFCR, which took care of it until its release.

The Falcon was ringed and equipped with a GPS transmitter provided by the International Falconry Association (IAF). The GPS tag was fitted by the Ecology team of the ECWP in the Missour area, eastern Morocco (photo 2). The bird was then released at Al-Baten Plateau on 15 December, in the presence of the Provincial Directorate of the Forestry Administration of Missour (HCEFLCD).

The end of the bird’s journey:

Five days after its release, the Saker Falcon was unfortunately found dead on the bed of Oued Moulouya near the village of Megdoul Ouled Dahou. The autopsy revealed that its crop and digestive tract were completely empty, suggesting that the bird had failed to hunt and feed. He weighed only 550 grams and had lost 125 grams, or 25 g/day.

The bird will have travelled a total distance of 165 km. The tracking data showed that it was very active and disoriented for the first three days before returning to its migratory route and headed to the southwest along Oued Moulouya.

The authors of the report added that the mortality rate of young Saker Falcons in the wild is rather high citing the study of Prommer et al. (2012). This study – about the migratory movements of Saker Falcons from Central and Eastern Europe – showed that 50% of young birds die before 31 December and 70% before reaching the adult stage.

Reference (PDF):

Rousselon, K. Qninba, A. & Bergier, P. 2018. Deux captures-lâchers de faucons rares au Maroc. Go-South Bulletin 15: 1-6.

Finnish Peregrine (Falco peregrinus) rescued from poachers in Morocco
Peregrine Falcon / Faucon pèlerin (Falco peregrinus) ringed in northern Finland in July 2013 and captured by poachers in Morocco on 1 Nov. 2017. It was rescued by the Moroccan Association of Falconry and Raptor Conservation on the same day (Karim Rousselon).
Saker Falcon / Faucon sacre (Falco cherrug) rescued from poachers in Morocco
Saker Falcon / Faucon sacre (Falco cherrug) captured by poachers in Casablanca region on 27 Nov. 2017. It was rescued by the Forestry Administration (HCEFLCD) 6 days later (Karim Rousselon).
Saker Falcon / Faucon sacre (Falco cherrug), south of Tangier, Morocco, 14 Sep. 2012 (Javier Elorriaga).
Saker Falcon / Faucon sacre (Falco cherrug), south of Tangier, 14 Sep. 2012 (Javier Elorriaga). This bird is the fourth record for Morocco.

3 thoughts on “Rare falcons rescued from poachers in Morocco”

  1. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has been a useful tool for the antis opposed to any use of wildlife. Sadly, western governments have used it as a weapon to prevent LEGAL trade in wildlife and by doing so, have caused an increase in demand for wild taken. At first consideration, a reasonable person would recognize this trend as undesirable but to government officials, it’s the result they need. It supports their demand for more funding to expand their agencies for more restrictions and more police actions. The reality is, peregrine falcons are ranked as Least Concern by the IUCN Redlist. I have been producing two subspecies of the peregrine falcon for years but in spite of it being legal for me to export them, US Fish and Wildlife Service officials refuse to follow their own regulations to issue me permits to export … then I read articles like this.

    1. Hello Bill,

      Thank you very much for raising this important question. I totally agree with your point.

      Regarding these falcons, I think these falconers were considered ‘poachers’ because traditionally Moroccan falconers capture only juvenile falcons in summer (mentioned by a Moroccan falconer in his comment here). I understand that once the hunting season is over, they release these falcons back into the wild. So, by this logic, capturing adult falcons is considered a bad practice.

      Anyway, I will ask the opinion of Karim Rousselon, the president of the Moroccan Association of Falconry and Raptor Conservation (AMFCR). Karim was involved with the release of these falcons as well as with another similar case in 2015 about a Swedish Peregrine Falcon rescued at Casablanca, Morocco. He may have a better answer than me. It may allow also both of you to exchange more about falconry and the conservation of falcons.

      Mohamed

  2. Mohamed,
    CITES was sold to us as a tool for wildlife managers and my claim is it isn’t and never was used as a “tool” for anything other than restricting what was previously legal and a contribution to conservation. US law only allows American falconers to take passage birds as you describe in Morocco but this is based on the small number of practicing falconers and the limited take of wild falcons. And we may transfer a wild taken bird to a fellow falconer but may not sell or benefit from the transfer in any way. On the other hand, we are able to legally sell captive-produced birds. It should be noted that CITES Provisions encourages captive breeding and trade, especially of the less common species listed in Appendix I and II. The CITES stated position is that it reduces the demand for wild take. To use your term “by this logic,” couldn’t we expect a higher demand for wild taken birds when governments refuse to allow trade in captive-bred specimens?

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