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Report: Illegal hunting in the Mediterranean claims 25 million birds every year

A Golden Oriole is caught in a trapper's net on Cyprus. Photo by RSPB
A Golden Oriole is caught in a trapper’s net on Cyprus. Photo by RSPB

About 25 million birds are killed illegally in the Mediterranean every year, according to a first-of-its-kind scientific review carried out by BirdLife International.

The total includes 20.1 million songbirds, 1 million waterbirds, 700,000 pigeons and doves, and 100,000 raptors. Eurasian Chaffinch tops the list with an estimated 2.9 million killed annually, followed by Blackcap (1.8 million), Common Quail (1.6 million), and Song Thrush (1.2 million).

“This review shows the gruesome extent to which birds are being illegally killed in the Mediterranean,” said Patricia Zurita, BirdLife’s CEO. “Populations of 40 different migratory songbird species that were once abundant in Europe are declining, and some are now in free-fall. Many have already disappeared from much of their former range.”

Birds may be shot, caught in nets, become glued to branches (also known as lime sticks) that they mistake for safe perches, and lured with song recordings to trapping locations. The birds are secretly served as a delicacy in restaurants and homes throughout the Mediterranean.

The islands of Malta, located between Italy and Libya, hold the distinction of killing the most birds per square kilometer: 343 annually. However, the estimated total number killed in Malta each year — 108,000 birds — pales by comparison to the region’s larger countries. The 10 Mediterranean nations with the highest mean number of birds illegally killed every year are:

Egypt: 5,700,000
Italy: 5,600,000
Syria: 3,900,000
Lebanon: 2,600,000
Cyprus: 2,300,000
Greece: 704,000
France: 522,000
Croatia: 510,000
Libya: 503,000
Albania: 265,000

A Stonechat struggles on a lime stick on Cyprus. Photo by Guy Shorrock/RSPB
A Common Stonechat struggles on a lime stick on Cyprus. Photo by Guy Shorrock/RSPB

The authors of the report, which is based on a forthcoming scientific paper, note that:

– Of the 348 bird species that regularly occur in Italy, 43 percent are being killed illegally in significant numbers.

– Greece is among the three worst countries for the illegal killing of European Turtle Dove; its numbers have declined by 78 percent in Europe since 1980.

– Nearly one-third of the 349 species assessed in France are killed in significant numbers. Eurasian Chaffinch and Eurasian Robin are among the worst affected.

– The Famagusta area of Cyprus, on the island’s east coast, is one of the worst places in the Mediterranean for birds. Around 689,000 are killed there every year. A British military base on Cyprus is working to remove illegally planted trees and shrubs that trappers use for cover and to lure in birds.

– The list of raptors taken includes Pallid Harrier, listed as Near Threatened, and Egyptian Vulture, listed as Endangered.

“The illegal killing of tens of millions of birds around the Mediterranean, highlighted in this report, is a source of lasting shame,” said Tim Stowe, international director of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. “It’s time that action is taken to put an end to the killing, especially in the European Union, where nature laws should be protecting vulnerable species. If properly implemented and enforced, the EU Birds Directive would provide the necessary protection for many birds that feature in this report, and in time reduce the needless illegal killing.

“We have seen positive steps taken this year in places such as the Dhekelia British Sovereign Base Area in Cyprus. Now we need to put pressure on the rest of the EU to follow this example to ensure safer flyways for birds migrating between continents.”

 

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