Italy allows hunters to shoot 7.5m rare turtle doves: ‘This will accelerate decline until no birds are left’

Government allows autumn hunt to proceed despite species being listed as ‘vulnerable’ since 2015

Joe Sommerlad
Tuesday 27 April 2021 14:23 BST
A European turtle dove sits on a branch
A European turtle dove sits on a branch (Getty)

The Italian government has given the green light to hunting of the European turtle dove this autumn, despite the species being listed as “vulnerable” to extinction since 2015.

The decision grants the country’s 500,000 licensed hunters permission to shoot a maximum of 15 doves each, which would amount to 7.5m being killed in total, according to Bird Guides.

The European Commission says there are between 2.9 and 5.6m pairs of mating turtle doves on the continent, meaning Italy’s cull will further decimate an already-diminishing total.

The country – an important stop on the doves’ seasonal migratory path to sub-Saharan Africa – made its decision after government representatives met with their regional counterparts last week to discuss the question of the species’ future.

While the Italian Ministry of Ecological Transition and the National Institute for Environmental Protection and Research supported a four-year ban on hunting the birds, local officials – in agreement with the Italian Hunting Federation – argued for the right to resume shooting.

Amazingly, the one official who did stand up for the doves was Calabria’s representative Sergio De Caprio, a former police officer nicknamed “Captain Ultimo” and celebrated for having arrested notorious Sicilian Mafia boss Toto Riina in 1993, who had ordered the assassinations of prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

Mr De Caprio reportedly became interested in environmental issues after thwarting illegal Camorra fishing activities around Naples and has vowed to fight for the protection of the birds.

The European turtle dove has been considered in danger since 2015 when the International Union for Conservation of Nature moved their classification from “least concern” to “vulnerable” on its red list after the population was found to have declined by a shocking 78 per cent from its 1980 level.

In the UK, the bird’s numbers have dropped by an even more alarming 95 per cent since 1995.

But there is hope for a creature whose song is described by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds as “an evocative sound of summer” and who were regarded as symbols of love in Ancient Greece for towing Aphrodite’s chariot: a similar ruling was made in France last summer, only for Emmanuel Macron’s government to face a public outcry and be forced into a U-turn.

“Hunting of this species is not sustainable and will accelerate the decline until no birds are left,” commented Axel Hirschfeld of Germany’s Committee Against Bird Slaughter.

“Driven by their selfish hobby, Italian hunters do not want to renounce their beloved prey. The Federcaccia Italia, member of FACE, the European Hunting Federation, has been lobbying strongly to continue blasting the very last turtle doves from the sky.

“FACE and their national member organisations have not only done nothing to halt the decline, they have actively accelerated turtle dove declines by defending their so-called ‘right’ to shoot until no bird is left. At the same time, politicians are stopping the authorities from doing the right thing and instead do everything to serve the interests of a lobby group.”

The loss of the European turtle dove could be a portent of things to come for other species, environmentalists have warned.

“They are the canary in the mine because there are all these other species before it and after it,” Isabella Tree, author of Wilding (2018) and leader of the pioneering Knapp Estate biodiversity project in West Sussex, told Deutsche Welle in October.

“It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way.”

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