British egg collector convicted in Bulgaria

Dimitar Gradinarov from BSPB is interviewed, Photo: Guy Shorrock

On 22 Octomber Burgas District Court tray a case against British citizen Jan Frederick Ross, charged with destruction of specimens of protected species and especially their eggs, which he robbed from the wells and collected in his personal collection. The indictment was submitted by the Burgas Regional Prosecutor's Office after nearly 3 years review of judicial investigation.

The case ended in less than 40 minutes with settlement out of court. Jan Ross received a 6-month suspended sentence and a fine of 5000 leva. The Briton has been charged with two offenses:

• In the Protected Areas Act - the destruction of specimens of protected species (their eggs), including Kingfisher, Ortolan bunting, Collared Pratincole, Blackcap and stuffed protected species including Sparrow hawk and Common buzzard. The sentence was based on Art. 278 g, paragraph 1 of the Penalty Code of the Republic of Bulgaria;

• For the keeping of specimens (eggs) of the species under special protection regime - Griffon Vulture. This is a very rare bird which was on the brink of extinction. After serous efforts of  BSPB  there are now 60 breeding pairs in the country.

Brittan’s lawyer argued that Mr. Ross did not know what he is doing, which is untenable since he has two convictions for similar offenses in the UK:

What is the history of the case? In December 2011, under specialized action of the Regional Police Directorate - Burgas Jan Ross was arrested. He lives in Burgas. A search of his home was performed and the police seized eggs of various rare birds protected by the Bulgarian and European legislation. They found also climbing equipment, diaries describing how Ross illegally collected eggs from the nests of endangered birds, storage boxes and tools. Among the eggs, there was some extremely rare species such as the Griffon vulture and Collared pratincole.

The diaries revealed over a thousand potentially illegally collected bird’s eggs including a number of very rare breeding birds such as a clutch of eggs from the globally endangered Egyptian vulture and three clutches of the Imperial eagle (24 pairs in Bulgaria). No charges could be brought against Ross for taking of these eggs and the location of them remains unknown.

A video on the case could be seen here.

The Eggs of the rare birds have been robed with collectibles goal – a little known activities in the pastime in Bulgaria, but very popular in the recent past in the UK. The strange hobby involves robbing eggs from the wild, including endangered species. The eggs are emptied of their contents and stacked in collections, sometimes involving thousands of items. As a result of such illegal activities and vandalism and other crimes against wildlife, some iconic species such as the Saker Falcon are on the brink of extinction in the wild.

The operation has been coordinated by the British police, Interpol, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds - UK (RSPB) and the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB). Jan Ross is an old acquaintance of the British authorities and before coming to Bulgaria he has been convicted of such an offense in the UK.

This is the first case of nest robbing in Bulgaria. There are previously led cases of trafficking of birds and reptiles in violation of the CITES Convention (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), but so far no effective penalty for such crimes in the country.

Wildlife crimes are new to the attention of law enforcement institutions and media in Bulgaria. Among this type of crimes are also plundering of eggs and young birds for illegal captive breeding or sale, the use of baits, traps and nets, poisoning and poaching shooting.

According to Art. 278, paragraph 4 of the Penalty Code of the Republic of Bulgaria "Who destroy, capture, hold, or sell copies of European or globally endangered wild vertebrate animals without proper permission, shall be punished with imprisonment of up to 5 years and a fine of 5,000 to 20,000 leva and compensation for the damage."

BSPB started working on preventing this kind of crimes years ago, as they collected solid evidence that the cases in this country are not uncommon and sometimes undermine long-term efforts and resources invested in the conservation of rare species of birds and other animals. BSPB works closely with the institutions responsible for the monitoring and combating such crimes – Ministry of Interior, Prosecutor's Office, the Customs Agency, MEW and RIEWs conducting a number of trainings, workshops and trips for exchange of experience in order to build capacity in this area.

Call of BSPB and other conservation organizations is to allocate appropriate priority in the work of detection and prevention of such crimes as they plunder our greatest national treasure - our precious nature, which is our capital, the source of wealth and resources and our heritage for the future generations.

Additional information:

For comparison - in the mid 2014 the court of East Flanders, Belgium, sentenced to between one and four years in prison, a fine of € 90,000 and confiscation of assets of nearly € 1 million organized group of criminals that operated in several states. They robbed eggs and juvenile birds from the wild and after that they were forging the documents and sold them with great profit. During this significant case, the representatives of the court in Belgium warned that international trade in endangered plant and animal species has reached the size comparable to those channels for trafficking of drugs and weapons.

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