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18 May 2016

Shock and… understand: a strategy to end the Illegal Killing of Birds

Image: Hashim Morsy and Salwa Elhalawany
Image: Hashim Morsy and Salwa Elhalawany
By Luca Bonaccorsi

Exhausted migratory birds are trapped in glue, in agony from thirst and exhaustion. Squeezed to death, tangled in fine nets, millions are massacred this way every year before they can reach their breeding grounds. In an Egyptian market, ducks and orioles with broken wings are carried on a merchant’s back alive before being killed by knife. Countless raptors and other migratory birds like Turtle Doves await their fate in cages. Many of you will have seen our graphic video of illegal bird killing practices in the Mediterranean (it reached over 3 million people in three days).

The video was released last week for World Migratory Bird Day (10th May) to raise awareness of the illegal killing, taking and trade of migratory birds and to rally support for action – this year’s theme.  

WARNING video not suitable for children:

However hard it is to show or watch though, we feel it had to be done.

Not because we think that you can simply shock governments or people into change. Conservation work requires a lot more than that. What about, for example, the livelihoods of the people that may depend on illegal hunting and trapping? They have mouths to feed too.

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Conservation requires, first and foremost, understanding. In this particular case it does require the understanding of the socio-economic-institutional drivers of illegal hunting and trapping. With an estimated 6 million birds killed and trapped illegally every year, Egypt is one of the most dangerous places for migratory birds in the Mediterranean, with Italy and Lebanon. Why? To answer the question, together with the video, we have also released a new study that offers shocking findings.

Released by Nature Conservation Egypt (BirdLife in Egypt) together with BirdLife International, the study reveals that over 75% of bird killing and trapping is illegal. According to Dr. Salwa Elhalawani, author of the study for Nature Conservation Egypt: 

The study sheds light on the magnitude of the illegality of hunting along the Mediterranean coast of Egypt. But, most importantly, we have profiled hunters and mapped their socio-economic background, so we can recommend mechanisms to help them, as well as the birds, in the future.

In practice, in fact, a “Commercial Hunter”, motivated by the economic value of bird selling will require a very different strategy compared to a “Subsistence Hunter” who has to provide an additional source of protein for his family, or compared to the “Recreational Hunter” who shoots birds for sport/tradition.

The study contains a wealth on information on the “hunting community”: only 7% keep the birds for personal consumption. Most of the birds are sold to the market. Nearly 2/3 of hunters interviewed had either primary or no education. Over half of the hunters derive 50% or more of their income from the activity, with 21% earning more than 75%.

The study provides some ‘obvious’ information (almost half the hunters are fishermen and live in numerous families) but also some unexpected facts: almost 20% of hunters are public-sector employees with, probably, a good understanding of hunting laws. Law, and law enforcement, is an issue of great importance. Almost all hunters use fine ‘trammel’ nets in an illegal way (100%) and call devices (85%) knowing these are illegal.

According to Noor A.Noor, Executive Coordinator at Nature Conservation Egypt (BirdLife in Egypt): 

The study provides much needed context for all scientific research taking place by the Responsible Hunting Programme. By deepening our understanding of the human factors behind illegal killing and trapping, we increase our chances of taking suitable measures, in coordination with local communities, to promote sustainable practices.

Claire Thompson, Conservation expert at BirdLife International, defines the one in the study a morestrategic and holistic approach to eliminating illegal killing of birds in the Mediterranean region."

Cooperate with the Government, instruct police forces, educate communities: the range of solutions recommended in the study vary. Will they work? We will soon find out.

This study forms part of a wider programme of action to address the illegal killing of migratory birds in Egypt - find out more.

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Address from BirdLife's CEO, Patricia Zurita, on World Migratory Bird Day:


This socio-economic study was produced with the financial support provided by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) through the Secretariat of the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (UNEP/AEWA Secretariat).