Beyond Magazine speaks to Assad Serhal, Director general of the society for the protection of nature in Lebanon (SPNL) and the Chairman of the Birdlife Middle East partnership committee, to give us an insight into the state of Lebanon’s Birds.
You are highly knowledgeable about birds in Lebanon. what sparked this interest ?
It started during my childhood, when I went in hunting trips with my father. I later studied wildlife ecology management at Oklahoma State University, with a special focus on ornithology. During field studies, I came to understand birds and to love them, which prompted me to stop hunting.
What is your role as director general of SPNL?
Overseeing the proper execution of SPNL’s strategy and action plan in Lebanon and the Middle East, especially the Hima Revival and the Important Birds and Biodiversity Areas Program.
What is Hima?
Hima in Arabic word meaning “sanctuary” a community- based conservation area that originated over 1500 years ago.
SPNL initiated the Hima Revival program in 2004 in Ebel Esaqi in South Lebanon. SPNL and Birlife have devised a strategy for conserving Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the Middle East through Hima revival.
Where doeas the funding for Hima Revival come from ?
SPNL proposed that Qater establish a Hima fund, which is now operating from Qatar under the patronage of HRH Sheikha Jawaher. So far four sites have received grants from the funds: Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, and Qatar, with the aim of saving globally threatened birds.
Why is bird migration so important in Lebanon ?
Lebanon is one of the major bird migration flyways in the world, where two billion birds migrate twice a year in fall and spring. Unfortunately, hunter in Lebanon target all bird species, all year round, even in some protected areas, within the city limits, and in all towns and villages. Over 20 million birds are trapped by mist nets and lime sticks in order to be sold in Lebanese restaurants .
How about the indigenous birds ?
About 59 species out of the identified 400 species are resident birds in Lebanon. The Blackbird, Chukar Partridge, Yellow Vented Bulbul, Dipper, Syrian Woodpecker, Chaffinch, kestrels, buzzards, and eagle species have resident populations in Lebanon. Most resident bird population face the threat of extinction .
Can you tell us about the book State of Lebanon’s Birds and IBAs?
As mentioned by international expert Richard Porter in his forward to this book, it is a must for every library since it is based on over 300 field research hours that identified 399 bird species and 15 Important birds areas in Lebanon. It identifies the major birds habitats and areas that are being conserved for their protection.
What are the future plans for bird conservation in Lebanon ?
SPNL has launched the MSBs project with UNDP, the ministry of environment, and Balamand University for the identification of the top public hunting areas in Lebanon, so that hunting can be properly regulated. Several municipalities have already initiated sites for sustainable game hunting, based on the new hunting law.
Source: Alia Fawaz, Beyond Magazine, spring/ Summer Issue 2014