Record fine for man who illegally kept hundreds of wild animals and birds

A man from East Flanders who illegally kept more than 450 wild animals and birds has been sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment, half of which is suspended, a fine of 40,000 euros and a record reparation fee of almost 70,000 euros. 

“This is the first time that nature compensation damages have been calculated so high, but this concerns a large number of wild species,” said a spokesperson for bird protection agency Vogelbescherming Vlaanderen, which had filed a civil suit against the man.

A total of 118 species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) were found on the premises, including barn owls, tawny owls, Japanese nightingales, turtle doves and yellow-crested cockatoos. The man also had 134 illegally kept native species such as ortolan, skylark, raven, hawfinch and goldfinch, as well as a large number of tortoises.

Illegal animal trade

Vogelbescherming Vlaanderen said the man had been involved in illegal animal trade for decades, and a large sum of money was found at his home. “He shifted all responsibility away from himself, said he acted out of love for animals and compared himself to a stamp collector who wants to have as many species as possible,” the agency said. It was awarded damages of 7,750 euros.

"This is a very important signal from the court"

Inspections of the man's premises going back to 2007 and 2010 found violations. Animals often had no food or drink, were very dirty or deformed and were housed in inappropriate, unhygienic cages, often permanently in the dark. In June 2021, a coordinated action took place by the Flemish Nature and Forest Agency, CITES inspectors, animal welfare inspectors and the police. 

On Tuesday, the judge ordered the man to pay 68,545 euros to the Flemish government’s Mina fund for remediation on environment and nature, the largest ever fine of its kind. 

“This is a very important signal from the court," said Free Van Rompaey, legal officer at Vogelbescherming Vlaanderen. “In the calculation, the court only took into account birds that died or were placed in a shelter, a total of 70 out of 212 birds, accounting for 43 species. The remaining 142 birds could be released.”

Lifetime ban

Under the CITES treaty, introduced to prevent the decline or extinction of wild species, owners must be able to present documents of origin and import and export permits. The defendant did not have the necessary documents. The court in Oudenaarde also imposed a lifetime ban on the man from keeping animals. He can appeal the verdict. 

Van Rompaey: “Strict enforcement and monitoring of European legislation on birds and their habitat is crucial to eliminate this type of crime. The court ruled that crimes like this harm biodiversity and natural heritage and should therefore be considered a serious form of crime.”


#FlandersNewsService | File image of tawny owls © IMAGO

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