Lebanon’s President, Michel Aoun, has made a heartfelt pledge to prevent the annual slaughter of the thousands of migratory birds who fly over the small Middle Eastern state twice a year.
Dozens of storks lie dead on the ground, neatly lined up. Behind them, the men smile at the camera, holding up by their long, silent beaks yet more dead birds. It’s been a good hunt, one worthy of sharing with friends on Twitter or Facebook.
Welcome to Lebanon, where hundreds of such macabre photos offer testimony to what conservationists have been denouncing for years. The little Mediterranean state is a black hole where some 2.6 million birds disappear every year, shot or trapped illegally (http://www.birdlife.org/sites/default/files/attachments/01-28_low.pdf ).
The wealth and diversity of birds packed into this relatively small country (at least 399 species of birds have been recorded here), is the pride and joy of local people, and a massive concern for local conservationists, such as those who work at the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (BirdLife Partner).
The country lies on the west side of the African Eurasian Flyway (Red Sea – Rift Valley Flyway) which is considered one of the most important flyways in the world for bird migration. The long perilous journey from Europe and Asia to Africa, via the Sinai and the Red Sea, ends here, in this small stretch of land, for million of birds. In terms of “intensity”- birds killed per square kilometre – Lebanon ranks third, trailing only Malta and Cyprus.
But Lebanon’s days as a high-flyer in the chart no-one wants to top could be numbered, because a new, bird-friendly era has been announced. The announcement came straight from the Lebanese President, Michel Aoun, last Saturday with a heartfelt appeal to put the country’s nature first: “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”.
A “peace treaty”, in a country that has paid an immense price for numerous conflicts: words do not get stronger than that in Lebanon.
The issue of course is illegal hunting, rife in many areas. According to the President, “There should be a hunting season assigned from September to December, with the State exercising strictness in its execution”.
Music to the ears of SPNL’s crew, and in particular to its Director General, Assad Serhal. “SPNL, with the support of Birdfair and BirdLife International, is promoting responsible hunting practices to support conservation efforts and proper law enforcement” says Serhal. Training for law enforcement officers and hunting clubs – added Assad – mainly on bird identification and hunting law is a crucial step that should start promptly”. SPNL has been working on sustainable hunting and protected areas since its establishment in 1984.
Politicians’ credibility may not be at historical highs these days, but the new Lebanese campaign seems solid enough to dent the usual scepticism. Yesterday Tarek Khatib, Minister of the Environment, has announced the opening of the hunting season for 2017 from 15 September until the end of December, stressing that hunters requesting licensing will be subject to close scrutiny. During the press conference, Khatib also pointed out that official hunting clubs were chosen to conduct the examinations and that penalties for violators will be issued through security agencies.
Deep is the satisfaction in the words of BirdLife’s CEO, Patricia Zurita: “Our tireless campaign to end the illegal killing of birds is bearing important fruits. The BirdLife’s GEF/UNDP Migratory Soaring Birds project implemented nationally by the Ministry of Environment and SPNL over the past five years, has provided key guidance and the procedures that are now the backbone of the hunting management in Lebanon. The BirdLife family – added Zurita – today celebrates the political support from the Lebanese President. We are ready to help put this ‘peace treaty’ in action.”