BirdLife: The Magazine Jan-Mar 2018 - Page 44

ILLEGAL KILLING are targeted because they are seen as being in direct competition with man for game species such as grouse and pheasant. Culinary temptation, once again, serves up much food for thought. But while birds in Northern and Central Europe are more generally consumed as a delicacy, the situation in the Caucasus is more complicated. Here, birds are often seen as a free source of meat and income; in Azerbaijan, for example, illegally shot birds are openly sold along the roads bordering protected wetlands and reserves under the guise of being ‘chickens’, ‘geese’ or ‘domestic ducks’. A staggering 66% of the 457 species of native birds assessed for the review were reported to be known to be killed (or likely to be killed) illegally in significant numbers each year. The bird groups most seriously affected are waterbirds, followed by passerines. Alarmingly, all the native species of auk, heron, rail, gallinule, coot, pigeon, dove and thrush regularly found in all three regions are significantly affected. The Common Coot Fulica atra alone, Least Concern globally, but Near Threatened in Europe, has a mean estimate of more than 100,000 individuals illegally killed each year. The death toll imposed by illegal killing in these three regions may be too great for some species to bear, especially if they are already threatened. Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax (Near Threatened), for example, loses potentially as much as 10% 44 Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Photo John Fox 4 7 Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis Photo Thomas McDonnell illegally shot birds are sold along roads as ‘chickens’, ‘geese’ or ‘ducks’ of its entire global population to illegal killing in these regions each year. And for many migratory species, the threat of illegal killing in each country along their route comes alongside mortality from legal hunting and more diffuse threats such as habitat loss. The raptors of the skies – from the great eagles and falcons to the hawks, kites and ospreys – have captured our imaginations for centuries. But these awe-inspiring creatures have also long been persecuted by man, and in some cases to national extinction. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that the new review has identified birds of prey as the bird group with the highest percentage of species affected by illegal killing. Some 15,100-68,500 individuals are estimated to be killed each year across the three regions. Of the 52 raptor species assessed, all but one – the Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus – are seriously affected by unchecked persecution through poisoning, shooting and trapping. Eurasian Buzzard Buteo buteo are the most negatively affected (a mean estimate of >10,000 killed) followed by European Honey-buzzard Pernis apivorus (a mean estimate of >5,000 killed). Of most pressing concern is the Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus (Near Threatened) with potentially as much as 10% of its European population illegally killed annually. The long arm of the law seems to have a woefully short reach when it comes to the protection of our birds. Illegal killing continues birdlife • Jan-Mar 2018