When “Machi,” a Whimbrel carrying a satellite transmitter, was shot and killed in Guadeloupe in September 2011, the international bird conservation community had a rude wake-up call about what was happening to migrating shorebirds in the French West Indies. The fact was that tens of thousands of shorebirds representing several species were being shot by hunters each fall. Swift action by the Society for the Conservation of Caribbean Birds (SCSCB) and its members and partners, including AMAZONA (the local bird conservation organization), has resulted in significant progress on the issue of shorebird hunting.
Whimbrels are amazing long distance migrants. Machi had been tracked for over 27,000 miles (44,000 km) back and forth between the breeding grounds in the Hudson Bay Lowlands of Canada to wintering grounds on the coast of Brazil. In 2011, we had learned from the satellite tracking study being conducted by the Center for Conservation Biology that Machi, after hunkering down in Montserrat during Tropical Storm Maria, flew to Guadeloupe where she met her end. Ongoing tracking studies have shown that Whimbrels like Machi and other shorebirds utilize the Caribbean islands to rest and refuel, take refuge from dangerous storms, or spend the winter. However, the journey ends for many that attempt to stop in Guadeloupe, Martinique, or Barbados, where sport hunting of shorebirds remains a popular tradition.
At the time when Machi and a second satellite-tagged Whimbrel named Goshen were killed, there were no daily bag limits in the French West Indies, and no protection for species of conservation concern, such as the Red Knot. Thankfully, due to proactive advocacy, there have been some positive changes in hunting regulations since Machi’s death.
Following the shooting of the two shorebirds and in light of the fact that populations of many shorebird species are declining in the Americas, SCSCB organized a letter writing campaign targeting decision makers in environmental departments of the French government as well as other key authorities and international organizations. Many SCSCB members and partners sent letters to these officials, urging them to take actions in support of a more sustainable and responsible harvest. They also wrote about the issue in their local newspapers, websites, and blogs (see links to some of these below).
As a result of this international campaign and months of dedicated work by the National Hunting and Wildlife Agency (ONCFS) together with other departments and local hunters, there has been a change in policy which benefits migratory shorebirds that rely on these islands’ mangroves and wetlands as wintering and critical stopover sites during their long migrations.
The Ministère de l’Environnement and the Fédération Départementale des Chasseurs de la Guadeloupe and Fédération Départementale des Chasseurs de la Martinique have acted to place some restrictions on shorebird harvest: First, the Red Knot (beginning in 2012) and Solitary Sandpiper (2013) were closed to hunting on Guadeloupe and the Red Knot was closed to hunting on Martinique in 2013. The Ministère de l’Environnement in Paris is also considering long-term removal of the Red Knot from the list of hunted species. Second, a bag limit of 20 birds per day per hunter was instituted in Guadeloupe in 2013. This action of setting bag limits, initiated by an Overseas Department, is a rare action for the French hunting community and regulatory agency. Finally, a three-year moratorium on the shooting of Whimbrels and Hudsonian Godwits was put in place in Martinique in 2013.
The SCSCB community is encouraged by these outcomes. Lisa Sorenson, Executive Director of SCSCB commented, “Machi’s death drew attention to the fate that awaits hundreds of thousands of other shorebirds that pass through the Caribbean in the future, and provided an opportunity to encourage these governments to adopt more sustainable hunting regulations. There is still much work to be done, but we consider the change in hunting laws to be a very important and significant conservation outcome. Machi did not die in vain.”
“We applaud the French government’s and the Fédérations des Chasseurs of Guadeloupe and Martinique actions on this issue, and we want to thank our members and partners for their help in bringing about this positive change.” – said Howard Nelson, President of SCSCB
“We all need to remain vigilant about issues like this throughout the region as we continue to work to conserve resident and migratory birds for future generations to enjoy.” – he added
Nelson remarked that the Society supports broader social and ecological values of shorebirds and that in the longer term, he was hopeful that this would support meaningful behavior change on the islands.
This short blog post is linked to the previous one on the bird massacre in Lebanon. Peter Ericsson (Thailand) informed me about a group named, ‘GREAT LEBANESE BIRD HUNT‘ which actually promotes himself on Facebook. One of the strange and scary post on their wall shows the poster of the World Migratory Bird Day to be held in 11-12 May with the advertising text: Great Lebanese Bird Hunt. I reckon it is not a name of a classic birding race for ‘hunting’ (seeing) as many bird species as possible.
They are fully aware of the fight of different organizations against the population decreases of migratory bird species and it seems that they organize a massive hunting as a ‘celebration’ of this day. I wish I was wrong…
I have been planning to write something enthusiastic for the readers of the WorldWaders News Blog as there would be a reason for celebration. Today WorldWaders celebrates its 3rd birthday. I set this blog up to raise public awareness of the many different conservation issues, related to shorebirds, as well as the importance of the shorebird conservation research. I also aimed to share great achievements which we had several times.
Today is a bit different. Today one of our supporters drew my attention to several photographs which chased away all my intention to celebrate. When a bird conservationist sees images of mass ‘hunted’ birds, the remained enthusiasm vanishes. Just two days after I posted to my personal birding blog about the great project named ‘From Billions to None‘, I found these images…
There are many more similar images published on the hunter Facebook page, but I don’t need to publish all of them to see the critical level of bird slaughter in the Middle East, just like in the Mediterranean. This hunting behaviour is far beyond the ‘hunting for living’ philosophy. It is simply a sport, a way of spending time and money by a hunter. Apparently these hunters have nothing to do with starvation and such a mass killing of those birds is way unnecessary.
However these images are not simply about a hunting issue which should be solved but the legislation and implementation of relevant laws. I mean the LACK of relevant laws. Do those hunters know the conservation status of any of the shot species? Do they even know the international conservation status of each species exists? Does the government of Lebanon and other Middle East countries fully aware of species status of shot birds? Looking at those images am not sure anymore. While the western countries are spending millions of Euros, Pounds or Dollars for fancy conservation projects, a simple Malta case cannot be resolved for more than a decade now. Are we, NGOs, strong enough to make a difference if issues cannot be sorted out by the European Parliament? The conservation of the modern era is not about installing nest boxes for tits in a tiny forest. Today conservation is pure politics, unfortunately. It requires aggressive lobbying to make some achievements. The Malta case clearly represents it. There could be arguments with my possibly unpopular comments but I think a different approach is needed today to make a difference. Different approach from both the governmental as well as from non-profit organizations.
I am not a real and effective lobbyist but what I, and many other like-minded, see is that the illegal (we say that) hunting is a very hot issue what nobody dare to scratch. What if these images are the mirrors of the Passenger Pigeon story. We cannot fully blame global warming as the main root cause of population declines of shorebirds. Place population trends next to the images of these dead birds and think about how on Earth we could kill 2-3 billion Passenger Pigeons within a few decades?
Will Northern Lapwing be the next ‘Passenger Pigeon’? We far do not have a billion Northern Lapwings!!!
By the way: Thanks for your great support to follow this blog initiative. Here in the comment field tell us what you think of this blog! Sorry for the bitter taste celebration…
Another saddening shooting issue has come to surface a few days ago which made the shorebird world completely speechless. The duck hunting season started in the mid weekend of March in Victoria’s wetlands with the off-limits to members of the general public before 10am and for 2 hours before sunset unless they have licence to shoot ducks. This restriction is effective for the entire 12 weeks of the duck season.
The majority of Victorians are opposed to duck shooting and want to see the sport banned. Yet the Government has introduced changes to the Wildlife Regulations that ignore the welfare of birds.
In a media release posted prior to the season opening Conservation Manager of BirdLife Australia Dr Jenny Lau said:
So the only people who’ll know what’s going on in the wetlands at prime shooting times will be the shooters themselves. With recent staff cuts, we have no confidence that the Department of Primary Industries will be there to look out for the welfare of our wildlife.
Dr Lau has concerned that native waterfowl is at risk and said the Government has failed to consult with BirdLife Australia about the duck season.
Given the very dry conditions this year, lake levels have dropped dramatically in some parts of the State causing waterbirds to concentrate on remaining wetlands. It’s important that the distribution of waterfowl at wetlands is reviewed to determine whether there are adequate refuges for all wetland species.
Shortly after the media release and first weeks of the hunting season horrible and tragic images posted on BirdLife Australia Facebook Page. Images showed dead Pink-eared Ducks, Grey Teal, Eurasian Coots, Red-necked Avocets, Blue-billed Ducks and Hardheads. Shocked BA statement on Facebook says:
This is what happens when hunters shoot indiscriminately into flocks into flocks – how else could you mistake an avocet for a duck?