Swedish thieves steal eggs from rare owls worth millions

Swedish thieves steal eggs from rare owls worth millions
File photo of a great grey owl: TT
Crimes against protected species of plants and animals are on the rise in Sweden, police said on Tuesday.

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.

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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.