Lebanon’s rare species of birds fall victim to the economic crisis

Out of 407 species, only 13 are legally allowed to be hunted. However, there are increasing demands for stricter law enforcement and the prosecution of offenders who violate hunting regulations

Fida Mikdashi
Friday 28 April 2023 09:42 BST
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Rare species of birds are at risk in Lebanon
Rare species of birds are at risk in Lebanon (Getty Images)

This article first appeared in our partner site, Independent Arabia

Rare species of birds in Lebanon are increasingly falling prey to illegal poaching and overhunting, putting them at risk of a decline in population that could even lead to extinction. Despite strict regulations banning hunting during breeding and migration seasons, unlawful practices persist and are largely unchecked.

Amid a worsening economic crisis and soaring fuel prices, the demand for bullet cartridges among hunters has reportedly decreased by 10 percent, according to Adonis Khatib, a member of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL) and president of the Middle East Sustainable Hunting Center (MESHC).

Speaking to Independent Arabia, he stated that hunters are resorting to carpooling to economise on the number of rides, where once they would make a point of driving alone to show off their flashy cars. "Recently, hunting has turned into mere massacre of birds. It has become more of an addiction than a hobby," he noted.

Khatib maintained that hunting has a place in the management of natural resources and hunters should collaborate with conservationists to sustain and protect wildlife populations. He emphasised, "We are striving to promote this mindset by establishing an Anti-Poaching Unit, a pioneering initiative that aims to encourage hunters to collaborate with law enforcement agencies in combatting illegal hunting. This involves documenting violations, raising awareness, and collaborating with global partners with similar goals."

Lack of Regulation

Khatib considers the issue of hunting in Lebanon to be "very sensitive". He argues that instead of imposing an indiscriminate ban on hunting, the government should have focused on setting proper regulations and preventing poaching. "An indiscriminate ban may give rise to a new generation of shooters, not hunters, who are propelled to adopt illegal hunting practices such as mist nets and birdlime, as well as encouraging night poaching," he added.

Khatib highlighted that the government has taken steps to create a new culture of responsible hunting by requiring hunters to take tests to obtain licenses for the official hunting season. He believes that this has contributed to raising better awareness about the issue, which is a key focus of his organisation. However, he also criticised environmental associations for failing to address the problem and not being able to distinguish between responsible hunters and poachers.

He further elaborated, "Our centre has developed special hunting ethics and conducted awareness sessions to help hunters differentiate between what might be considered an eco-friendly hunter and a harmful poacher. This conceptual distinction between sustainable hunting and poaching has yielded positive outcomes. We have trained many hunters to comply with the rules and regulations set by law enforcement, adhere to directives related to the species of birds and numbers allowed to be hunted, and adopt sustainable methods of nature conservation."

Commenting on the decision taken by the caretaker Environment Minister, Nasser Yassin, to ban hunting for two years, Khatib expressed concerns that this would have a negative impact. This is because of hunters resorting to illegally hunting birds by luring them through planting trees, placing nets with attractive lighting over their houses, and using electronic bird callers. "Out of the 407 species of native and migratory birds that pass through our airspace, only 13 of them are allowed to be hunted during the designated season," he added.

Inaction by the Security Forces

Khatib acknowledged that the Middle East Sustainable Hunting Center (MESHC) and security forces are working together in the Anti-Poaching Unit to document violations. He also highlighted the opening of a unit dedicated to saving injured birds, stating that they provide proper medical care and rehabilitation before releasing them back into the wild. However, Khatib criticised the security forces for their inaction in combating illegal hunting, asserting that they are not doing enough to address the issue.

He urged officials to consider reopening the hunting season next year with stringent measures to prevent violations. He also emphasised the financial benefits that the sector brings to the government through the purchase of licenses.

Meanwhile, Michel Sawan, an environmental activist and expert in ornithology, expressed concern about the impact of indiscriminate poaching on various bird species, including migratory, protected, rare, and endangered ones. He noted that many birds are injured due to these practices.

Sawan lamented the rampant hunting of birds in disregard of laws and regulations, despite continuously raising this issue with security forces who have not responded. He highlighted that many birds are targeted outside of the designated hunting and breeding season, including protected species such as white and black storks, cranes, pelicans, and various types of eagles. He also highlighted a concerning trend of people engaging in hunting for the sole purpose of showing off, even if the birds they hunt are inedible like common and honey buzzards.

He mentioned that just two days ago, they received seven white storks who had been injured with bullet wounds. Unfortunately, six of them did not survive their injuries, and the remaining one is still undergoing treatment.

Sawan suggested strengthening military checkpoints to catch and fine those with guns outside the hunting season, penalising security personnel who neglect their duty and referring them to military courts, and exerting more control on hunting shops that sell cartridges over 36 grams for hunting protected and large bird species such as eagles. He also recommended amending hunting laws to better adapt to the circumstances of today.

Reviewed by Tooba Ali and Celine Assaf

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