SPANISH police and the Moroccan Royal Guard have arrested a gang of 28 bird traffickers who were earning over €1 million a year.

Some 280 exotic birds were found, worth over €1 million themselves, in a combined operation that also involved Europol.

Those found included macaws, parrots and cockatoos, all endangered species protected by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

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FOUND: Macaws, parrots and cockatoos

Sources say the birds were destined to be sold throughout North African countries, particularly Morocco, where demand is high.

The combined operation, codenamed ‘ORATIX’, took place just before Spain’s lockdown in Malaga, Murcia, Granada, Alicante and Asturias.

It was found that the gang would sell the endangered birds using forged documents to get around international restrictions on transporting animals.

In attempts to further cover their tracks, the birds’ lives were put in danger by being smuggled out of the country, hidden in buses heading for the African mainland.

A Moroccan travel agent is alleged to have supported the traffickers, helping with logistics and tickets.

A lucrative operation was also set up online, whereby unwary buyers would pay in full for an exotic bird, for it never to be delivered.

During several house raids, authorities also found over 400 marijuana plants, suggesting birds were not the only commodity being traded.

It is believed that parrot-smuggling worldwide is on the rise, with some species able to command prices of ‘several hundreds of thousands of euros on the black market’, according to Europol.

They also say that a number of parrot species are threatened with extinction due, in part, to such smuggling activities.

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