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Europe and Central Asia

Romanian conservationists and hunters unite to save a threatened bird

By Ovidiu Bufnila, 7 Dec 2015
Red-breasted Geese in flight. Photo: SOR

For the first time in Romania, conservationists and hunters are working together to protect a threatened species: the Red-breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis).

At the request of the Romanian Ornithological Society (SOR, BirdLife Romania), the National Association of Romanian Hunters (AGVPS, the FACE partner in Romania) have agreed to a temporary hunting ban in one of the most important Special Protected Areas (SPAs) for the Red-breasted Geese - Lake Balta Alba in Buzau County.

The Red-breasted Goose is the smallest goose species in the world. It nests in Siberia and when it migrates, it travels 9.000 km to its wintering grounds in Romania and Bulgaria. Hunting, illegal killing, loss of feeding sites and displacement by windfarms in their wintering grounds are major threats that have led to a continuing decline in the species’ population.

“We monitored this area with our partners and we found that the geese began wintering in October. We saw 1.260 birds on 30 October... By the end of November, we had approximately 10.000 individuals, which is 20% of the global population,” said Emil Todorov, project officer of SOR.

To make matters worse, Red-breasted Goose flocks mix with other geese species, such as the Greater White Fronted Goose (Anser albifrons), which are allowed to be hunted. This increases the risk of Red-breasted Geese being accidentally shot, especially in the morning when the whole flock takes off together from their roosting place.

The region of Lake Balta Alba. The marked area is now protected by a temporary hunting ban. Photo: SOR

According to data, Lake Balta Alba is an important resting and feeding ground during November-December for the geese (the lake freezes by the end of December, so the geese then fly further south). Thus to protect the Red-breasted Geese, the hunters have agreed that from 23 November until 31 December between 6 and 10 am, they will keep a distance of 500 metres from the western part of the lake so the flock can take off safely.

“This partnership has a mutual purpose and we, the hunters, can set in motion an army of over 1.500 technicians and game-wardens. We know a lot about Romania’s wildlife and we can contribute to all conservation activities,” Neculai Selaru, the executive president of hunting association AGVPS said.

The partnership between SOR and AGVPS comes after a PR campaign that took place this summer in Romania. ‘Don’t kill the trill’ was a successful effort to change a new hunting law by SOR and more than 40 other NGOs. After the campaign, ornithologists and hunters had several meetings and are working together to change subsequent legislation in Romania.

“We really believe in the impact this measure will have, proving that ornithologists and hunters can work together. We really think this is the first step in an enduring partnership,” said Dan Hulea, executive manager of SOR.