More than 2,000 exotic birds and animals freed following raids in Spain and overseas

Some of the birds found during raids Some of the birds found during raids Guardia Civil

A COMBINED operation with EUROPOL has seen the Seprona division of the Guardia Civil break up an international group of animal traders said to have earned €500,000.

Investigations have taken place in a number of countries in Africa and Latin America especially Mexico and more than 2,000 birds and animals have been freed during the activities of Operation Suzaku.

Spain was a major target for the smuggling of exotic birds from 18 different countries with an estimated mortality rate of 50 per cent of all of the birds transported due to the poor conditions in which they were smuggled.

The leader of the gang - who was one of 29 people arrested - is a Spanish citizen resident in Alava in the Basque Country who had a criminal record, including animal smuggling and it is believed that by way of payment for the exotic birds, he allegedly smuggled protected birds out of Spain to exchange for those he wanted from Africa and Latin America.

To avoid being discovered, the gang used several points of entry to airports in Spain with birds packed into suitcases and as a toucan for example was being obtained for as little as €50 and sold for at least €3,000, they could afford the large number who died in transit.

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