"Hunting tourism" carnage in Tunisia is currently legal
A recent Facebook post by the Lebanese Hunting Club (dated 10 January but subsequently erased) used these horrifying images to advertise hunting trips in Tunisia. They shocked the internet – but the carnage they depict is currently legal.
Widely shared by conservation organisations and activists, this graphic invitation for tourists to slaughter excessive numbers of birds provoked indignation and disgust among Internet users, who are calling on the Tunisian authorities to eradicate these unsustainable practices. Because let's be clear - no matter how horrible these images are, and whatever we think of the Lebanese Hunting Club and the hunters who are immortalised in these photos, the hunting trip that produced such carnage was almost definitely authorised under Tunisian law.
Tourist hunting is authorised and regulated in Tunisia: the facts
Tourist hunters in Tunisia are permitted to kill wild boar, jackal, fox, mongoose, genet - and numerous bird species. To do so, they only need to apply to a Tunisian travel agency to organise a hunting trip. They are then provided with a hunting license (valid for 7 days and renewable) and a specialised guide. Depending on the game they target, hunters may also pay a fee to the Tunisian state, which can range from one thousand dinars (336 €) to two thousand dinars (672 €) per hunter depending on the time and duration of the trip. Each hunter is also allowed to bring along 350 rounds of ammunition.
Carnage without limits
No quota is set for the killing of Thrushes (Turdidae) or Starlings (Sturnidae). In fact, this is the case for more than thirty species of “huntable” bird in Tunisia. The exceptions to this rule are the Barbary partridge Alectoris Barbara, and members of the Sandgrouse family Pteroclididae. For these species, each hunter is limited to 6 or 10 killls per day respectively.
But back to the Thrushes and Starlings: during the three consecutive days that a tourist is authorised to hunt, they can visit up to three governorates (territorial communities in Tunisia), choosing from twelve in which hunting of these birds is permitted. They can expend 350 cartridges of ammunition. And this explains the piles of dead birds you see in the pictures on the Lebanese Hunting Club’s Facebook page.
What about the Friends of the Birds Association?
The Friends of the Birds Association "Les Amis des Oiseaux" (AAO - BirdLife in Tunisia) has not let the situation go unchallenged. As a permanent member of the Consultative Commission on Game Hunting and Conservation (CCCCG), the body in charge of the annual review of the hunting organisation decree, it has been campaigning since its appointment for better provisions of this decree.
Through its awareness-raising and advocacy efforts, it has succeeded in reducing the number of bird species that can be hunted in Tunisia and increasing the number of specially protected species. Thanks to the Association’s tireless lobbying, certain hunting methods and techniques have been banned, and hunting opening periods reduced. And each year, the AAO ensures that the most important sites for the conservation of bird life in Tunisia remain closed to hunting.
All of these measures are extremely unpopular among most hunters
These encouraging achievements are thanks in part to AAO’s participation in international projects aiming to make hunting more sustainable . But many battles are still waiting to be won. These include introducing quotas for all of Tunisia’s “huntable” bird species, modifying Sandgrouse hunting periods, reducing the period during which female hawks may be kept, and automatically removing from the hunting list any species of bird that has been declared Globally Threatened with extinction.
All of these measures are extremely unpopular among most hunters and authorities, for several reasons, none of which are ecological. As biodiversity conservation associations are largely in the minority within the commission, the Friends of the Birds Association has not yet succeeded in finding a majority to push these improvements through. Together with our national and international partners, we are considering a new strategy to ensure that the members of the CCCCG Commission hear the voice of reason.
Tunisia is a signatory to several international conventions that commit it to the sustainable management and conservation of wildlife. The authorities are therefore obliged to introduce all measures necessary to achieve these objectives. In the absence of a national red list, they should remove from the hunting list any bird classed as "Near Threatened" on the IUCN Red List. Even lack of accurate population size estimates should not impede common sense measures to cut the devastating impact that hunting has on Tunisia’s bird populations.