The Lebanese army gave the vulture to the UN, which passed it on to its caretakers. (C) GAMLA NATURE RESERVE

Live and let fly … the happy end of the Golan’s Vulture trip to Lebanon

Bassam Alkantar – * SPNL media campaigner

Intensive unsustainable hunting and illegal killing of migratory birds are taking place in many parts of the world driving species to the brink of extinction.
Huge numbers of birds are killed during their spring migration in Lebanon every year, including raptors, waterbirds, landbirds and many other species that are protected by international law.
An incident that went viral in the social media last month, shows that despite the dramatic situation in Lebanon, a light of hope exist.
A vulture that flew into Lebanon from Gamla Nature Reserve in the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied from Syria in 1967, has been captured near the southern Lebanese village of BintJbeil. After 24 hours of this accident, the vulture successfully crossed the border and was handed over to officials from Gamla Nature Reserve, with the help of United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon- UNIFIL personnel who secured the bird’s safe return.
The huge griffin vulture — which is part of a conservation project to restore the raptors in the Middle East — has a metal ring on its leg indicating it is from Tel Aviv University, tags on its wings, and a GPS transmitter attached to its tail.
It seems that the stormy weather and the attraction of garbage piles in southern Lebanese villages led the vulture to cross the “borders” that actually doesn’t exist in the dictionary of the bird species.
Six of Africa’s 11 vulture species – the continent’s largest and most recognisable birds of prey – are now at a higher risk of extinction, according to the latest assessment of birds carried out by BirdLife International for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.
The main causes of the drop in African vulture populations are thought to be indiscriminate poisonings, where the birds are drawn to poisoned baits, use of vulture body parts in traditional medicine, and deliberate targeting by poachers, as the presence of vultures can alert authorities to illegally killed big game carcasses.
BirdLife Partners recently came together to take action for African vultures – making a commitment to save ‘Nature’s clean-up crew’.
Patricia Zurita (BirdLife’s Chief Executive) with Bradnee Chambers (Executive Secretary of the UNEP Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS)) recently made a commitment to ensure that the plight of these essential creatures is made known to a global audience.
The Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon – SPNL (Birdlife Lebanon) alerted the Lebanese authorities with the help of environmental journalists, about this accident, focusing on raising awareness that birds carrying tags and devices, are not, and they will never be used for spying ! This was not the first campaign to raise awareness about this issue and for sure will not be the last, but it is the duty of all environmental conservation society to raise the voice against intensive capturing and killing of birds and any other wild animals on suspicion of espionage.
It’s extremely important to continue with the projects of conservation of birds that include putting any tracking devises or other visible means of identifying raptors and other large birds for studies in the Middle East.
Several countries in the Middle East are suspicious of these birds being used for spying, especially because they carry Israeli tags, but thanks to the continuous awareness campaigns of the environmental journalist and social media activists, the last thing we want to encourage is a paranoia that all birds of prey should be killed in case they are spies. But the enforcement of Hunting Law and the implementation will lower the illegal hunting of all birds whether they are carrying devices or not, and that’s our priority.
The law 580 – Hunting System in Lebanon, which was issued in 2004, is one of the most egregious models for not applying the environmental laws after many years of their approval. Only dealers of arms, cartridges, and wild birds’ meat benefit from the chaos of the indiscriminate hunting of all kinds of resident and migratory birds, in the absence of the police’ serious decision, to carry out its duties, and apply the hunting law, alleging that security conditions in Lebanon are the main reason.
SPNL has found an ideal solution to implement the hunting law, which is in limiting hunting within specified Public areas in several Lebanese regions, owned by the municipalities. These areas must be clearly defined and surrounded by guards, in order to ensure secure and controlled entry for hunters, and to ensure their departure with the allowed numbers of hunted preys, as provided by law, in a way that allows the punishment of the violators.
Several workshops were organized with responsible hunters, and they signed declaration announcing their willingness to be ambassadors of Hovercraft migratory birds, and role models which would be followed by the municipalities in various Lebanese areas, bearing themselves as leaders of change in order to pass the message of this declaration to the wider community of hunters, including those who are unaware of the plight that is faced by migratory birds.
The announcement regarded that the establishment of customized Responsible Hunting zones in Lebanon is an attempt to achieve a balance between the needs of wildlife, and people’s needs, using the best available knowledge, in order to ensure safe hunting, in addition to the possibility of limiting it to the plentiful available numbers of preys within the site.
The Responsible Hunting zones, however, are based on scientific studies, to ensure the hunters’ security and safety, and the prey species’ sustainability, through a series of precautionary measures and ensuring the proper management and the enforcement of the hunting law.
The Responsible Hunting areas also contribute in reducing the losses in land biodiversity, taking into account the environmental principles such as stamina, natural geography, soil science and hydrology.
Based on field studies that were carried out by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon, in cooperation with a number of experts, the team of specialists at the University of Balamand has produced maps for eight identified proposed areas for Responsible Hunting in Lebanon. Once they are approved, hunting outside these areas should be banned.

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