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Shotgun salvos versus geese flocks

Flying White-fronted geeseFlying White-fronted geeseCentral Europe is the most important wintering region in Eurasia for wild geese. The extensive lowlands are favoured winter quarters for Greylags from Scandinavia, White-fronts and Bean Geese from the Siberian tundra, and Greenland Pink-footed Geese. Several hundred thousands of geese, amounting to almost the complete Eurasian populations, gather in early winter in the extensive nature reserves in Eastern Germany.

The birds require large lakes and rivers for their nightly roost; during the day they search for food on the harvested fields or on pastures and meadows. Their mass flight at dawn and dusk to and from their roosts is a breathtaking spectacle.

One man’s incredible natural spectacle in another man’s shooting range! Hunters position themselves behind bushes or in ditches in the immediate proximity of the roost waters and wait for the birds. When the geese return in the evening or depart in the early morning, they are taken under merciless fire during their low level landing or approach flight. The geese, which often fly in company of Common Cranes, are treated to doses of highly toxic lead shot, and protected species are often killed outright or survive badly wounded. Later, often after several weeks, the birds die of lead poisoning. Many fall into the reeds near the hunters but are overlooked. Retriever dogs, which are required by law to be used for this form of hunting, are often not present. The official annual German hunting bag totals for geese lies between 30,000 and 35,000 birds – in reality more than 50,000 birds are almost certainly victims of hunting fever every year.

In the meantime important roost waters have been declared protected areas, or at least hunting on their shores if forbidden. The majority of hunters are however well-heeled West German guests, whose ability to hunt in their home states has been banned or severely curtailed. The local hosts not infrequently give them a good run for their money by positioning them within the protected areas.

Bean goose shot by a German hunterBean goose shot by a German hunterIgnorance is not only confined to the topography of the hunting preserves. German hunters can distinguish a Roe from a Red Deer; their identification of migrant birds is however far from accurate. Individual Pink-footed Geese and Lesser White-fronts can only be identified among the flocks in flight by practised ornithologists in ideal conditions. Many of the hunters we questioned during our monitoring operations were not able to tell apart Greylags from White-fronts – even when the birds lay dead on the ground in front of them!

CABS has fought against this untenable state of affairs for years, with increasing success. We have monitored the observance of hunting restrictions in the extensive protected areas in the states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saxony-Anhalt since 1997. CABS members are present on the ground every weekend in the winter season and check the known geese roosts. Over the past years we have reported well over 100 hunters to the police and, with their support, have not infrequently brought large hunting events to an early end.

In the meantime, thanks to our regular presence, the situation in some areas of Eastern Germany has quietened down to a great extent.