One of the dangers of the smaller world that we live in is that no falcon is safe anymore from the threat of egg poachers. Poaching can mean big money to the few individuals who supply birds to the falconry markets of the Middle East and elsewhere. I was startled to learn just how pervasive the activity was in the Russian Arctic.
One tends to think, living on the fringes of Canada, that it couldn't happen here. But let's face it, we have twice weekly jet service from Ottawa and we have the supply to feed the demand. If ever the north needed a wake up call it came in the spring of 2002 when two poachers, one from England and one from South Africa were caught with seven Peregrine (Falco peregrinus) and Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) eggs in Kuujuaq, an Inuit community in Northern Quebec. They were caught because local people were suspicious of their activities, as they posed as photographers but apparently were more interested in the location of nests (they had hired a helicopter to take them to scout for nests) than taking photos.
They were fined a paltry, sorry make that a very paltry, $7250 which they paid immediately and literally left the next plane. Such a small fine makes no sense considering the potential profits, a single bird can bring $30,000. And like any other activity with high profit potential it has no problem attracting individuals willing to take the risks and clever enough to get away with it more often than they are caught. Unless the fines and/or gaol terms are sufficiently high to discourage those individuals the problem will not go away.
Does it happen alot? Although there is not much intelligence on it here, I suspect that it is an annual event in the Canadian Arctic. There is too much money involved for it not to be. And make no mistake, there are some very clever people involved in crime, we tend to catch the less clever ones. I recall that when Ross's Gulls (Rhodostethia rosea) were discovered nesting in Churchill Manitoba it didn't take long for egg poachers (for a different type of villain, the rare egg collector) to appear. Two poachers stole a Ross's Gull's egg from right under the nose of a guard hired to watch the nest, but luckily were caught before they could leave the community. The egg was secreted in a hollowed out thermos.
A few years later I was with a local guide in Churchill at the end of the breeding season, and one of the stops we took were at the nest of the Ross's Gull. By this time the birds had left the nest so we took a short walk off the road to have a look at it. A single unhatched egg remained in the nest, and I remember thinking, as we walked away, how much some people were willing to pay for that egg, and smug in the thought that no collector was going to get it.
I feel very protective of our two resident Falcons, the Gyrfalcon and Peregrine. Our business is named after the Gyrfalcon, Kiggavik in inuktitut. I'm lucky to live in an area where these birds can be seen, sometime without even leaving the house. One of our crew saw a Gyrfalcon outside his house last week, chasing a Raven. And last year Leah and I watched a Peregrine, Kiggavarjuk, hunting snowbuntings out in the field near the B&B. We make an annual trip out to a Gyrfalcon nest near town and woe to those who would seek to plunder it.