Open letter: give our birds safe passage over Lebanon this spring

With the spring migration just a few weeks away, conservation groups the world over have come together in support of an open letter to the President of Lebanon. Croatian conservationists call for the President to honour his promise for stricter enforcement of hunting laws.

By Jessica Law

Last May, bird lovers were entranced by the story of Klepetan, a lovestruck White Stork Ciconia ciconia who, for the past fifteen years, has returned from his South Africa wintering grounds to the same rooftop in Croatia to be reunited with his disabled mate, Malena. But it won’t be long until Klepetan has to take that journey again – and it’s a journey rife with peril. Quite apart from the usual dangers of migration – bad weather, food shortages and natural predators – he and millions of other birds that use the African-Eurasian Flyway must pass over Lebanon, a country where 2.6 million birds are illegally trapped or shot down each year.

Among the casualties in 2017 was another White Stork, Tesla – one of two that had been equipped with a GPS tracking system in Croatia. Being able to know exactly what had happened to Tesla, and where, made it all the more painful – but proved a rallying cry for conservationists.

However, this letter isn’t the first of its kind. Stjepan Vokić, the caretaker who discovered and tended to the flightless Malena after she had been illegally shot, penned a heartfelt letter to the President in 2017:


And it’s not as if Lebanon’s President, Michel Aoun, is deaf to pleas like this. In fact, he has strongly spoken out against illegal bird killing last year, stating: “There should be a peace treaty between Man and the tree as well as Man and birds, because we continue to transgress upon them”. He announced his intentions to enforce hunting laws much more firmly: “There should be a hunting season assigned from September to December, with the State exercising strictness in its execution”.

BirdLife CEO Patricia Zurita responded to this encouraging declaration with a letter of her own addressed to Claudine Aoun Roukoz, special advisor to the President. Her letter praised the President’s laudable aims and urged closer collaboration with the BirdLife Partnership, including SPNL (BirdLife in Lebanon).

However, these strong words and subsequent efforts by the Ministry of Environment, SPNL and law enforcement officers have not been sufficient to prevent the killing. Throughout 2017, the hunting regulations were not fully respected and implemented, with large numbers of birds still being killed illegally.

Because of this, Croatian group SOS Tesla – Save White Storks has penned the following appeal, which has garnered the support of 58 conservation organisations in 30 countries. On the 20th of February it was sent to the President, his advisor Claudine Aoun Roukoz and the Ministry of the Environment. Let’s hope that this one hits the mark.

“Dear Mr. President, Your Excellency General Michel Naim Aoun,

With just a few weeks until the start of the spring migration in this Year of the Bird, we are writing to you in the name of the Facebook group SOS Tesla – Save White Storks, as well as all the below signed organisations and groups from across Europe, and indeed the world.

During last year’s spring migration we were witness to many photographs and videos depicting massacres of migratory birds in Lebanon. Among the thousands of birds killed was Tesla, a white stork from Croatia, equipped with a GPS device. His death brought together bird–loving enthusiasts, bird protection activists and ornithologists from a host of countries in Europe and the Middle East to launch a petition, ‘Make the sky over Lebanon safe for storks and other migrating birds’, addressed to you, Mr. President, and Your Minister of the Environment. 

Bird protection activists from all over Europe, and others across the world, followed with great interest the subsequent efforts and actions taken to prepare and begin the application of the Hunting Law in September last year, and were very hopeful that it would be strictly implemented. Unfortunately, in the meantime, there have been further examples in which it can clearly be seen that poachers have continued to kill birds that it is prohibited to hunt, even before the opening of the hunting season and in disturbingly large numbers – merely for fun.

“Birds don’t belong to any nation, but all nations are obliged to protect them”

Now it is almost time for this year’s spring migration to start we are deeply worried for the safety of the birds whose return to Europe we so eagerly await. The vast majority of those in the eastern sector of the Africa–Eurasia flyway system will take the route over Lebanon. That is why we are sending you this unified appeal from all those organisations listed below as signatories to this letter which, together, are kindly asking You, Mr. President, to ensure that, this spring, shooting at protected species will be prevented and that the birds will have full protection while flying over Lebanon, as they should have according to the Law.

We were delighted when You, Mr. President, a year ago said: ‘There should be a Peace Treaty between Man and the tree as well as Man and birds, because we continue to transgress upon them.’ We are counting on this Peace Treaty because we believe that birds don’t belong to any nation, but that all nations are obliged to protect them for tomorrow’s children of all nations.

“Our eyes are turned towards Lebanon this spring with hope”

Therefore, we hope that, at the close of the hunting season this year, we will see this Peace Treaty with trees and birds become a reality and that You, Mr. President, will make sure that the Law is applied strictly and consistently so that all cases reported to the authorities are fully investigated, all poachers already accused are brought to justice – as well as their accomplices, instigators and accessories in the killing of protected species – and all available appropriate measures are applied and enforced to ensure that shooting at protected species is prevented, and that birds that are protected in their home countries in Europe are also protected while flying over Lebanon, as they should be according to the Law.

We believe that you will persevere in the strong protection of migrating birds and our eyes are turned towards Lebanon this spring with hope. With hope that birds will have a free and safe flyway and that Lebanon will become a shining example in the field of bird protection.

Dear Mr. President, please make the sky over Lebanon safe for migratory birds this spring!


We thank you in advance.”