“Over the past few years, more than 500 specimens of these birds may have been exported at a value of over €1 million ($1.1 million),” the Guardia Civil police force said in a statement.
“49 people have been investigated and 38 breeding centres were probed,” it added.
The ring, headed up by a Syrian national, bought young hybrid birds of prey from Spanish breeders that were a cross between peregrine falcons “illegally extracted from their natural environment” and gyrfalcons – the largest of the species.
— EFEverde (@EFEverde) February 11, 2016
The peregrine falcon is a protected species in Spain, home to some 2,000 breeding pairs of the birds of prey – the largest number in Europe – according to the agriculture and environment ministry.
The ring paid around €3,500 for a pair of falcons, police said.
Falcon racing has become a sport-of-choice among elites in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), “with big cash prizes for the owner of the winning bird,” it added.
And the hybrids are in great demand as the gyrfalcon cannot be bred in the desert or semi-desert federation of seven emirates.
A spokesman for the Guardia Civil said police in the UAE had been notified via Interpol.