4 Nov 2016

Stopping bird killing in the Mediterranean

Illegally shot Hobby © David Tipling/BirdLife Malta
Illegally shot Hobby © David Tipling/BirdLife Malta
By Claire Thompson

Reducing the killing of protected species, improving the protection of key sites for migratory birds and ensuring adequate law enforcement: the three pillars of the strategy to end the slaughter of migratory birds in the Med.

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. Countless raptors and other migratory birds such as 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), or you may have been shocked to learn this at last year’s Birdfair.
The 2015 Birdfair coincided with the launch of our first ever assessment of the scope and scale of illegal killing of birds in the Mediterranean region. The report, entitled The Killing, estimated that approximately 25 million birds may be illegally killed in the region every year. Twice a year on migration through the Mediterranean, Sociable Lapwing, Red-footed Falcon, Eastern Imperial Eagle and 22 other globally threatened species are running the gauntlet.
What has BirdLife International been doing to restore a safe flyway for these migratory birds? Our objective is to end illegal and indiscriminate killing of birds and ensure legal, responsible and sustainable hunting – in areas where hunting does take place. It is a long road ahead, but progress is being made. We’re making a three-pronged attack in the Eastern Mediterranean: reducing the killing of protected species, improving the protection of key sites for migratory birds, and ensuring adequate law enforcement.

We can stop this massacre but we need your help. Please donate now to fund our work. If you only wish to keep up with our updates, you may leave us your e-mail below.




Death on the Nile

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, alongside Italy and Lebanon. We launched a study to meet the hunters and trappers and find out why. Conservation requires, first and foremost, understanding since people’s livelihoods may depend on these illegal activities. The study estimates that over 75% of bird killing and trapping is illegal, but elucidated some more complex issues.
For instance, only 7% bird hunting is taking place for subsistence, whilst economic gain (through export of wild birds in some cases) is a prominent reason, plus for traditional recreation. Clearly, household size, occupation and income are significant influential factors, but surprisingly almost 20% of hunters are public-sector employees. Although some hunters are aware that they are hunting illegally, illegal activities are in part due to a lack of knowledge and understanding of the complex national laws. For this reason, an in-depth review of existing laws and enforcement mechanisms – followed by a set of recommendations for changes – has been completed by Nature Conservation Egypt (NCE, BirdLife Partner) and the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), which will lead to clearer communication of the legal framework to hunters and law enforcement authorities.
In autumn 2015, as migratory birds started flying northwards towards illegal fine nets on the Egyptian Mediterranean coast, NCE took to the beaches and headlands with EEAA National Park rangers to conduct the first wide-scale field monitoring of bird hunting. The watch and data collection happened again this spring and will be repeated during every migration season. Thanks to the growing understanding of the issue, NCE and the EEAA will now be better able to plan how and where to target their law enforcement and public awareness-raising efforts to bring this gruesome illegal massacre under more effective control on the Egyptian coast. National Park rangers have received new equipment and training workshops were held to provide them with a greater understanding of regulations.

Lebanon's responsible hunters and Cyprus' irresponsible delicatessen

In Lebanon, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL; BirdLife Partner) continues to work on the establishment of “Responsible Hunting Areas” to empower responsible shooters to become the guardians of birds and their habitats in 8 municipalities. In these areas, indiscriminate hunting methods will be prohibited, non-’game’ species will be protected, and hunting seasons respected. Regulation by municipal authorities will be vital to bring about a change from the current ‘free for all’ that is killing protected species with impunity. SPNL have also established a partnership with Sayd Magazine (hunters’ magazine) which has helped promote responsible hunting practices.
BirdLife Cyprus is fighting against illegal trapping of songbirds for ambelopoulia – a local controversial ‘delicacy’ of trapped Blackcap and other songbirds sold in law-breaking restaurants. With the majority of Cypriots not considering bird trapping to be a problem – BirdLife Cyprus continues to lead their zero-tolerance campaign to shift public opinion in schools and through engagement with new influential stakeholders such as tourist guides and members of the Orthodox Church.
In the British Sovereign Base Areas of Cyprus, the authorities have continued to undertake invasive acacia clearance in the trapping hotspot of Cape Pyla, involving the removal of planted scrub which trappers use as cover and which attracts vast numbers of migrating songbirds.

Shaking politicians in the Balkans

In the Balkans, where the illegal killing of birds remains low on the public and political agenda, the focus has been on awareness-raising, reporting cases to ensure offenders are prosecuted, and ensuring national legislation is adequate. In particular, CZIP (BirdLife in Montenegro) has established an awareness-raising team through the development of a network of journalists. The organisation is also lobbying for the shortening of the legal hunting season.
Association BIOM (BirdLife in Croatia) has been relentlessly raising public and political awareness on the illegal killing of birds in Croatia. The fight against illegal killing of birds is a tough one because of its complexity. Culture, society, economics, politics and human nature all come into the mix. But things can improve and we have evidence of this in the Messina Straight where LIPU (BirdLife in Italy) successfully got local enforcement authorities on board in the fight against illegal killing of Honey Buzzards and other species. The number of casualties for Honey Buzzards and other species in spring in Messina has been reduced from over 2000 to approximately 200 per year since the 1980s thanks to law enforcement and awareness-raising efforts to trigger cultural changes. From Egyptian shores to the Balkan media, the battle against illegal killing in the Eastern Mediterranean continues.
BirdLife and Partners are leading the fight with national governments, in collaboration and with invaluable additional support from the MAVA Foundation for Nature, the Nando Peretti Foundation and the Africa-Eurasia Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA).
Explore our story map below to find out more about the motivations, methods and countries where illegal killing occurs.