Israel Has Best Bird Conservation Record in the Region

Slaughter greatest in Egypt, Italy; Israel gets high marks for enforcing no-hunting laws.

A Hula Valley stork.
Yaron Kaminski

About 25 million birds are illegally hunted and killed or captured every year in countries bordering the Mediterranean, and many of these countries have adopted a policy of looking the other way when it comes to the mass killing of the winged creatures, a report released over the weekend by the group BirdLife International claims. On the other hand, Israel, the report says, has the best record among Mediterranean countries when it comes to bird conservation.

The most wide-scale slaughter is being committed in Egypt and Italy, says the report from BirdLIfe International, the world’s largest organization dedicated to the protection of birds, while the island nation of Malta has the worst record in relation to its size. Many of the avian creatures are killed or captured in the course of their seasonal migration between Europe and Africa.

After Egypt and Italy, the worst offenders on the list are Syria and Lebanon, which together account for the deaths of six and a half million birds every year. The annual toll in Malta is 110,000, but that puts it in first place based on relative area due to the country’s small size.

Most of the birds caught around the Mediterranean are hunted for food or as part of a hunting tradition, but some are captured and sold as pets. Most of the birds targeted are not in danger of extinction, but there are others, such as the pelican, whose numbers are dwindling.

In some countries, over 4 percent of migrating birds are captured or killed, generally in specific areas where the hunt is prevalent. In Italy, for example, there is major hunting activity in southern Sardinia, while in Egypt, a focal point is the Al-Manzala region of the Nile Delta.

Most of the countries in the region have laws restricting bird hunting, but hunting traditions and lack of enforcement have led to wide-scale hunting in any event. In France, it is illegal to hunt the red-headed bunting, but the bird is considered a delicacy and its proper preparation is sometimes used to test chefs applying to work in the finest restaurants.

Dror Galili

Israel has its share of illegally hunted birds as well, including goldfinches, which are captured to be kept in cages as pets, but the work of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the absence of the kind of hunting tradition that exists in Europe and elsewhere in the Middle East have rendered the scope of the hunting here negligible compared to other countries.

In response to the reports, BirdLife International’s local partner, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, said that it joined the organization’s effort last year and established a birdwatching competition in southern Israel to raise funds for the protection of birds in Malta and Cyprus. SPNI said a similar competition will be held this year, with the money going to protect birds in Greece.