Europe and Central Asia
10 Mar 2016

Ending illegal killing and trapping of 5.7 million birds in Egypt

A man with a bird caught on a limestick. Photo: Mindy El Bashir/ Nature Conservation Egypt
By Irene Lorenzo

For centuries, catching quail in nets has been an essential means of subsistence for people living in rural Northern Egypt. But these nets also trap any other birds passing by, mostly migratory ones.

It’s not hard to imagine that someone who traps these birds to feed their families thinks they have a very low impact on wildlife numbers (just one shrike or corncrake caught in one small net; a few warblers, larks and wagtails caught in another). However, what happens when your neighbours are doing the same? What if we are talking about an estimated 700km of nets placed along the Egyptian coast and illegal trapping happening on an industrial scale?

The result is tens of millions of birds caught in nets each year and about 5.7 million in Egypt alone, as reported in our publication The Killing, which summarises BirdLife’s first ever scientific review of illegal killing across the Mediterranean.

Nets are used to indiscriminately and illegally catch birds in Egypt. Photo Hashem Morsy/Nature Conservation Egypt

For many migratory birds, these nets are hard to avoid as they form a barrier across their flight path on their way to finding a good resting or feeding site. Additional illegal traps and capture methods are also used; including the munsaab (a trap composed of grass or sticks to catch ground-dwelling birds such as quail, corncrakes, larks and wheatears), and eb nets (trees and scrub are covered in large mist nets to catch small perching species), the use of lime as glue, targeted falcon catching and illegal shooting.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter!

After the illegal killing of birds in Egypt came to international attention in 2012, an emergency meeting of representatives of governments, environmental agreements and various NGOs was held in Bonn the following year. . A draft Plan of Action (finalised in March 2014) was developed by Nature Conservation Egypt (NCE, BirdLife in Egypt) and was discussed and agreed during the meeting. The Plan is being implemented by a Task Force and many of its measures are now being carried out by NCE, resourced by the Nando Peretti Foundation and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), in support of the implementation of the Plan by the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency. The Plan focuses on four main areas:

Monitoring illegal trapping on the Egyptian coast

In order to maintain governmental support and to monitor the impact of mitigation activities, NCE needed some numbers. With BirdLife’s expertise in bird monitoring, a standardised protocol was developed to monitor the scale of trapping in the area. NCE, in collaboration with the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, undertook the first autumn survey on the ground in September last year, which will be followed by spring monitoring in March/April this year. This is the start of three years of monitoring to help inform conservation action.

Simplifying hunting laws

At the beginning of the project, both hunters and enforcement agents expressed frustration with the complexity of hunting regulations, clearly a major obstacle to law enforcement.

An in-depth legal review of existing laws and enforcement mechanisms – followed by a set of recommendations for changes – was completed by a legal consultant and reviewed by NCE and BirdLife International. The next step is for NCE to work with the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency and other government institutions to follow up on the recommendations to support a robust and enforceable legal framework.

Enforcing existing laws

While the government has so far focused on management of protected areas, no Hunting Management Unit exists. An official agreement, outlining the responsibilities of the Agency’s soon-to-be-established Hunting Management Unit, has been signed by NCE and the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency. Binoculars, GPS systems, cameras, laptops and printers have been purchased for the unit.

National Park Rangers have also received training to give them a greater understanding of existing regulations, the impact of trapping on migratory birds and the species affected.

Raising awareness among local communities

Raising awareness of the effects of illegal killing on birds is vital to prevent it. Photo: Hashem Morsy/Nature Conservation Egypt

NCE has also undertaken a study to understand the motivations of local communities to illicitly trap birds. We know that illegal bird killing and trapping is a huge industry, with large numbers of birds being sold en masse in Egypt as well as exported to the Arabian Gulf. With a better understanding, we can work to raise awareness, adapt traditional practices and explore alternatives to ensure illegal killing of birds is eventually eliminated in the region.

Thanks to the support of the Nando Peretti Foundation and AEWA and the hard work of NCE in collaboration with the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, we are starting to take the first vital steps towards ending illegal trapping of birds in Egypt, and making the flyway safer for migratory birds on their awe-inspiring journeys.

If you want to help, see our latest petitions and fundraising appeals at



The Nando Peretti Foundation

Representatives of governments: Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, Environmental General Authority of Libya and German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety.

Representatives from Multilateral Environmental Agreements: African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and Raptors MOU.

NGOs: Nature Conservation Egypt (NCE, BirdLife in Egypt), Libyan Society for Birds (LSB), Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union in Germany (NABU, BirdLife in Germany) and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB, BirdLife in the UK). 

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.