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Bird slaughter in the Near East - documentation of poaching in the Lebanon

Trophy exhibition on Facebook

This Lebanese poacher proudly displays a shot White StorkThis Lebanese poacher proudly displays a shot White StorkA freshly-shot, still living Short-toed Eagle is proudly presented as a trophy. Armed men pose with freshly killed cranes and pelicans. Another hunter holding a dead Lesser Spotted Eagle grins into the camera lens. His hunting companion has neatly draped his bag for the day - hundreds of shot song birds - on a bedsheet. Two children, hardly eight years of age - inspect wide-eyed two dead Honey Buzzards that their father has brought back today from the hunt. Another still life shows nine freshly shot White Storks in the foreground with behind them the hunter, completely relaxed with a cigarette in one hand and the beak of one of the storks in the other. Such photos give an idea of the incredible damage that Lebanese poachers inflict on the European bird populations. There are several hundreds, perhaps thousands of such trophy pictures. Most are taken by the poachers themselves to show off to other hunters. Some of the photos are even posted on the Internet for friends and acquaintances to see. They prove in great detail that species gravely endangered in Europe are being killed on a massive scale in the Lebanon. And they are especially authentic because they are taken by the hunters themselves. Scientists and conservationists in Europe are now alarmed about the scale of the killing because the Lebanon straddles one of the most important routes for European migrant bird species, the Eastern Flyway. This route is used every spring and autumn by millions of song birds, as well as hundreds of thousands of storks, eagles and other birds of prey.

More than 140 species are affected by poaching

A child with a shot CuckooA child with a shot CuckooThe Lebanese Environmental Movement (LEM), with support from CABS; has monitored the hunters’ Facebook pages for months and meticulously collated more than 700 photographs as proof of the poaching of European migrant birds. The result is a comprehensive photographic documentation that has rendered bird and wildlife conservationists speechless. CABS experts need a full two months to analyse the photographs and count and identify the birds. A total of 13,100 birds are shown on the photos, of which 11,213 can be identified at species level. The spectrum includes song birds such as the Ortolan Bunting, Golden Oriole and Common Redstart, as well as numerous water birds and birds of prey as for instance Lesser Spotted Eagle, Red-footed Falcon and Egyptian Vulture.

The sale of hunting equipment is booming

Hundreds of birds shot on a single day - hunter with dead Barn Swallows and SwiftsHundreds of birds shot on a single day - hunter with dead Barn Swallows and SwiftsThe most important migration corridor is the Bekaa Rift Valley in the east of the country. This is the continuation of the Jordan Rift Valley and its fertile fields and extensive wetlands are used every year as a stopover for millions of migrant birds on passage. Embedded between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon Mountains the valley is only a few kilometres wide in places. Here, in this migration bottleneck, hunting has a long tradition. In addition to the sale of the shot birds on local markets, the trade in hunting weapons and equipment is booming here. Hundreds of hunting equipment shops are located in the area of the town of Chtaura alone. In the centre of the town there are 20 such traders in a radius of 50 metres. The second most important migration corridor is the coastal are to the west where above all water bird species and in autumn birds of prey pass through. Illegal hunting is a big problem here as well. In addition to the hobby sportsmen from the capital Beirut there are an increasing number of professional poachers in this region, whose families live from the profits of the sale of dead song birds to restaurants or private persons. These ‘pros’ are capable of harvesting several hundreds of birds daily using decoy devices, mist nets and shotguns.

Help from Europe

Heaps of song birds - This Lebanese hunter poses in Facebook with finches, buntings and other protected speciesHeaps of song birds - This Lebanese hunter poses in Facebook with finches, buntings and other protected speciesIn order to put an end to this environmental anarchy, the LEM and CABS believe that is it essential to finally implement a new hunting law (a draft has been on the back burner for years), educate hunters and establish an official organisation to monitor and control hunting. In order to put pressure on the responsible politicians in Beirut to take action the conservationists count on assistance from abroad. “The birds that are killed in the Lebanon are on the Red List of protected species in their breeding areas and great efforts are made for their conservation” comments Bernard Abi Nader, a bird conservation expert from Beirut. The member states of the European Union in particular must take a clear stance against this massacre and put pressure on the Lebanese Government to do more for bird protection. “The EU bird protection guidelines oblige the member states to improve the conservation status of endangered bird species. The necessary measures to protect the complete annual habitat of these species - in the Lebanon as well - must be implemented” demands CABS President Heinz Schwarze. “One such measure could be the use of EU funds for the development of a hunting warden organisation or education of the local population”.

In order to make the responsible politicians in Europe aware of the dimension of this bird conservation problem, CABS and the LEM are currently working on a joint report for the European Commission and the environment ministers of all EU member states. “We intend to use all channels open to us to persuade the Beirut government to finally take action to improve the situation for our migrant birds in the Lebanon” states Heinz Schwarze.

Protests to Lebanese Embassies

The publication of the hunters’ photographs, and a call for protest on the CABS website, have already caused a wave of outrage and led to a flood of protest mails to Lebanese Embassies in the countries of the EU. For the migration season 2013, the LEM plans in parallel a comprehensive public relations campaign in poaching hotspots. This will include educating hunters on the conservation status of migrant birds and the printing, putting up and distribution of relevant posters and brochures. CABS has agreed to provide funding and logistic assistance for this campaign. It is also planned to send a delegation of CABS experts to the Lebanon in autumn in order, together with our LEM colleagues, to collect more date on the scale of the migrant bird hunting problem and seek local solutions.

Report as download

The joint CABS/LEM report on bird killing in the Lebanon in English can be downloaded here:

01-CABS & LEM Lebanon bird hunting report 2013 web.pdf2.12 MB