Swedish thieves steal eggs from rare owls worth millions

Crimes against protected species of plants and animals are on the rise in Sweden, police said on Tuesday.

Swedish thieves steal eggs from rare owls worth millions
File photo of a great grey owl: TT

Among the most common crimes is theft of owl eggs and rare orchids, which are resold on the black market.

Great grey owls, one of the world's largest owls which is also known as the 'phantom of the north', is found in Norrland, particularly along the coastline – but as well as facing threats from deforestation, numbers have also reduced due to illegal trade of birds and eggs.

“When animals and plants are endangered and threatened by extinction, unfortunately their value on the black market rises,” Filippo Bassini, head of the police unit for species protection offences [gruppchef för polisens enhet för artskyddsbrott vid Noa] told TT.

An adult great grey owl can fetch “upwards of a million kronor” when sold online, according to Bassini. Such trades take place on the dark web – sites which can only be accessed using specialist encryption technology – but also on the mainstream Internet, including closed Facebook groups, for example.

READ ALSO: Rare owl sightings soar in Norway

In 2016, 156 crimes against nature conservation and species protection were reported in Sweden, according to statistics from the Crime Prevention Authority (Brottsförebyggande) which show a steady increase in such crimes.

The figure hasn’t been this high in a decade, after reaching a peak of 250 in 2006.

Bassini said that police were currently carrying out 130 investigations into species protection offences. These ranged from thefts of wild eggs and orchids, particularly in northern Sweden, to illegal trade of imported reptiles, which is a problem in the south. 

“It's often organized leagues, major criminals, who go where the money is. Additionally, the penalties are low,” he explained.

In order to crack down on the criminals, a team of ten officers are dedicated to tackling protected species offences across the country, and the police recently launched the new Open Eye initiative to increase collaboration between different authorities in crime-reporting.

This involves information-sharing between county administrative officials, the police, and Sweden’s Environmental Protection Agency, while members of the public are urged to report suspicious behaviour including signs of plants being dug up, eggs being stolen, or animals killed illegally.

And Bassini is positive about the increased attention being given to this kind of crime, saying that so far, around half of tips from the public have led to prosecutions.



Sweden breaks yearly record for fatal shootings

A man was shot to death in Kristianstad, Skåne, late on Thursday night. He is the 48th person to be shot dead in Sweden this year, meaning that the previous record for most fatal shootings in one year set in 2020 has now been broken.

Sweden breaks yearly record for fatal shootings

“Unfortunately we can’t say more than that he’s in his twenties and we have no current suspects,” duty officer Mikael Lind told TT newswire.

According to police statistics, this most recent deadly shooting means that 48 people have been shot to death in 2022, meaning that Sweden has broken a new record for deadly shootings per year.

Earlier this week, Sweden’s police chief Anders Thornberg said that this number is likely to rise even higher before the end of the year.

“It looks like we’re going to break the record this year,” he told TT on Tuesday. “That means – if it continues at the same pace – around 60 deadly shootings.”

“If it ends up being such a large increase that would be very unusual,” said Manne Gerell, criminiologist at Malmö University.

“We saw a large increase between 2017 and 2018, and we could see the same now, as we’re on such low figures in Sweden. But it’s still worrying that it’s increasing by so much over such a short time period,” he said.

There also seems to be an upwards trend in the number of shootings overall during 2022. 273 shootings had occured by September 1st this year, compared with 344 for the whole of 2021 and 379 for the whole of 2020.

If shootings continue at this rate for the rest of 2022, it is likely that the total number for the year would be higher than 2021 and 2020. There are, however, fewer injuries.

“The majority of shootings cause no injuries, but this year, mortality has increased substantially,” Gerell explained. “There aren’t more people being shot, but when someone is shot, they’re more likely to die.”

Thursday’s shooting took place in Kristianstad, but it’s only partially true that deadly gun violence is becoming more common in smaller cities.

“It’s moved out somewhat to smaller cities, but we’re overexaggerating that effect,” Gerell said. “We’re forgetting that there have been shootings in other small cities in previous years.”

A report from the Crime Prevention Council (Brå) presented last spring showed that Sweden, when compared with 22 different countries in Europe, was the only one with an upwards trend for deadly shootings.

Temporary increases can be seen during some years in a few countries, but there were no countries which showed such a clear increase as Sweden has seen for multiple years in a row, according to Brå.

The Swedish upwards trend for deadly gun violence began in the beginning of the 2000s, but the trend took off in 2013 and has continued to increase since.

Eight of ten deadly shootings take place in criminal environments, the study showed. The Swedish increase has taken place in principle only among the 20-29 year old age group.

When police chief Anders Thornberg was asked how the trend can be broken, he said that new recruitments are one of the most important factors.

“The most important thing is to break recruitment, make sure we can listen encrypted and that we can get to the profits of crime in a better way,” he said.