Protecting Sociable Lapwings in Iraq

In September 2010, Nature Iraq (BirdLife International’s Affiliate in the country) undertook a combined monitoring and advocacy exercise in several areas of Iraq where Sociable Lapwings have previously been found on passage. The work was led by Iraq’s leading ornithologists: Omar Fadhil, Mudhafer Salim and Korsh Ararat and built on previous studies conducted by Nature Iraq in the autumn of 2009 and spring of 2010.

The planned monitoring entailed conducting a series of surveys that searched for Sociable Lapwings that might be passing through the country on their autumn migration.  Its primary purpose was to locate large flocks of birds at previously undiscovered stopover sites that could be subsequently protected.

Like all the country teams now participating in international conservation action for Sociable Lapwings, Nature Iraq was on standby, hopeful they’d receive news of a satellite-tagged birds passing through, like in spring 2010 when one of the birds was located in central Iraq near lake Tharthar. When this information is available it makes searching for flocks much simpler as without specific location information huge areas need to be covered.

Despite the plan, no new tracking information was available to pass on, so the sites the team actually surveyed last autumn were primarily locations Nature Iraq had found birds at before and some others that the species had been recorded at historically.

Among other species, Houbara was found during monitoring.

In Autumn 2010 no signals were received from tagged birds passing through the country and during the surveys no Sociable Lapwings were actually encountered but that didn’t mean that the Nature Iraq team’s monitoring efforts were wasted. Much information was gathered on habitat and monitoring logistics and many other bird species were encountered and recorded (including the increasingly threatened Houbara Bustard) providing vital new information about various species’ distributions and populations in the country.

In parallel with their monitoring activities, Nature Iraq had also planned a comprehensive advocacy programme with visits to several local communities to engage them in a dialogue about Social Lapwings and their fragile status. These were concentrated in two main provinces – Salah Aldin and Anbar and proved extremely successful.

The window of the main hunting center in Tikrit after Nature Iraq had visited.

The primary threat to Sociable Lapwings on passage in Iraq is hunting with guns and falconry so a visit to the main hunting center in Tikrit was a priority first call. As on other occasions when the Iraqi hunting community have been advised about the extreme rarity of Sociable Lapwings, Nature Iraq staff received a good and positive response there and were allowed to place posters in the window of the hunting centre.

Thanks are owed to Iraqi special police forces supporting Nature Iraq.

Travelling through war-torn Iraq is by no means straightforward. In order to ensure safe passage, Nature Iraq staff are always either accompanied by Iraqi special police forces or even the Iraqi army.

Distributing posters to the local community.

After visiting the hunting center in Tikrit, Nature Iraq distributed posters among the local community in areas where Sociable Lapwings had previously been encountered. Children are ever-inquisitive and this provided an excellent opportunity for Nature Iraq staff to teach them about the species, its importance in Iraq and to encourage this new generation of Iraq citizens to protect their birds and biodiversity.

Nature Iraq staff engaging with local fishermen.

In addition to engaging directly with the hunting community, school children and local people in towns, discussions were also held with rural fishermen and the farming community.

Liaising with the rural farming community and evaluating awareness of the species presence.

All images copyright Nature Iraq.

To read Nature Iraq’s latest newsletter covering their most recent activities, click here.