Two held in drive to curb bird thefts

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The Independent Online
Two people have been arrested in a drive against the theft of valuable rare birds. Birds found during the operation will be DNA-tested to check whether they were bred in captivity or stolen from the wild.

They were bought by collectors who thought they had been bred in captivity. But police believe the choughs, merlins and hobbies - all protected species - were wild and had been illegally captured and sold.

A 50-year-old man and a 48-year-old woman from Harlow, Essex, were arrested during the operation yesterday and were released on police bail for 16 weeks. Police seized two injured birds and a number of dead chicks from aviaries at the couple's home.

A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said: "Trade in these rare birds is big business. Birds like the chough sell for up to pounds 500. "Unscrupulous breeders who own a pair of the birds that are not breeding successfully will capture wild young chicks or steal eggs and pass them off as the young of the captive pair."

Until recently it was impossible to know if birds were genuine captive- bred offspring but advances in DNA testing have made it easier to establish their origins. Addresses across the country were yesterday visited by police officers from 22 forces as part of an operation organised with the RSPB. Blood samples taken from 72 birds will be DNA-tested.

If found guilty of capturing and selling protected wild species, breeders can face a maximum fine of pounds 5,000 for each bird.