The shocking image of a dead Cinereous Vulture photographed in Lebanon and shared on social media suggests the indiscriminate killing of birds continues to be rampant across the country.
Persecution of vultures
The shooting of vultures, a practice once common across Europe, that contributed to their widespread decline in the 19th and 20th centuries, is thankfully now a rare occurrence in Europe – although still happening here and there, as we saw with the killing of a Griffon Vulture in Montenegro recently.
The situation is sadly not the same across much of the Middle East where the intense killing of vultures, eagles and other birds for sport continues, as the killing of this visiting Cinereous Vulture illustrates. In recent years tagged and monitored vultures have been killed in the Middle East and the Caucasus as well as Lebanon.
Cinereous Vultures are extinct as a breeding species in the Middle East, but a small number of individuals migrate through or winter in the region, probably from breeding populations in the Caucasus and western Asia, likely the source of the birds that was shot.
A killing field on the Eastern Flyway for migratory birds
Lebanon lies right at the heart of the Eastern Mediterranean Flyway, an important migratory route for birds migrating between Africa and Eurasia, which sees millions of endangered birds pass over the skies of the country, including Egyptian Vultures as well as other raptors such as buzzards, short-toed eagles, kites, honey buzzards and many falcons.
Widespread illegal killing of birds has always been a problem in Lebanon, so much so that a moratorium on hunting of birds was declared in 2004 in effect making hunting illegal, however, the slaughter did not stop as a 2015 Birdlife International study found. The study estimated that 2.6 million birds were shot down in Lebanon each year, which per capita is the second most number of birds shot in the Mediterranean region, after Cyprus. Hunting is considered a tradition passed down the generations, smaller birds are usually cooked and eaten but vultures, raptors and other larger birds are shot just for sport.
Attempts to protect vultures and other birds
In an effort to control the issue Lebanon’s Environment Ministry passed a new hunting law and opened legal hunting again (for the first time in two decades) in 2017. Hunters are now required to apply for licenses to legally hunt in the country, and some 18,000 licenses granted in this first season. However, there were also several reports that hunters were still flaunting the laws such as using electronic bird callers and spinning lures to attract birds and hunting without licenses.
It would appear that the problem is being taken seriously within the Lebanon government, with President Michael Aoun personally making an appeal during an awareness raising campaign to protect migratory birds.
"It is a shame to turn Lebanon into a wasteland without plants, trees, birds and sea animals, and cutting off trees to erect buildings is a major crime” he said. “ There should be a peace treaty between Man and the tree as well as Man and birds, because we continue to transgress upon them"
At the opening first hunting season last year he also outlined his commitment to punishing those who flaunt the hunting law
"There should be a hunting season assigned from September to December, with the State exercising strictness in its execution”
However, this horrific image of the dead Cinereous Vulture illustrates the enormity of the task facing authorities as they try to enforce the laws on hunting practices.
Here at the Vulture Conservation Foundation we condemn this senseless killing and stongly support our colleagues in BirdLife International and The Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon in their calls call to the Lebanese authorities and the Ministry for the Environment to do more to enforce the laws protecting vultures and other wildlife, including investigating and if at all possible, bringing charges to the individual who killed this protected species.
This call today is incredibly urgent as in the coming weeks and months the Spring migration begins will begin and millions of birds will once more pass over Lebanon as they return from Africa to their summer breeding grounds in Eurasia.
Fighting illegal bird killing
Led by Birdlife International and Euronatur and funded by the MAVA Foundation the Vulture Conservation Foundation are part of international projects tackling illegal bird killing along key migratory flyways. As part of BirdLife International's Capacity Development for Flyway Conservation in the Mediterranean the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon have been piloting “Responsible Hunting Areas” in the country to promote regulated and sustainable hunting and running training courses as part of the protocol to acquire a national hunting license.