Lebanon is situated straight in the eastern Mediterranean flyway and sees the annual migration of hundreds of thousands of raptors, storks and other soaring birds. The poaching situation is alarming and there is a need to train local conservationists and birdwatchers and to spread awareness for reducing the widespread illegal bird hunting.
I visited Lebanon for the first time in spring 2018. During that visit I personally realised the potential for birdwatching in this country, particularly during migration season. However, I also learnt about the massive poaching and witnessed it to some extent. Furthermore, during this visit I got to know Assad Serhal and André Bechara from the «Society for Protection of Nature in Lebanon» (SPNL, the BirdLife partner in Lebanon), who have been engaged in nature and bird protection for many years. While we were sharing a dinner together, the first ideas of how we could help the birds and the birdwatchers came up.
In early October 2018, Tomas Axén Haraldsson initiated a bird camp1 for a few days in the mountain village of Ras El Matn in the central Mount Lebanon range above Beirut. Three young Swedish birdwatchers and Tomas met with local students and introduced them to birdwatching. The core aim of a bird camp initiative is to bring together young people from different countries and cultures with an interest in birds and nature and to learn about conservation and awareness. The camp was a cooperation between SPNL, BirdLife Sweden and the Ornithological Society of the Middle East, Caucasus & Central Asia (OSME). During that camp they witnessed spectacular migration over the area.
In discussions following the camp, SPNL asked me if I would be willing to set up a migratory bird observation stand in the Hima2 of Hammana, a municipality at the upper end of the Beirut River Valley, some 6 km east of Ras El Matn. It was the municipality’s wish to promote ecotourism and birdwatching was to be one component. I subsequently agreed and visited the area in April 20193 to meet with the local partners – SPNL and the municipality of Hammana – and to find an appropriate place to set up the bird observation spot. Simultaneously there was the second bird camp4 organized by Tomas in Ras El Matn. We now discussed all together and agreed that a migration count could be a good local continuing of the bird camp initiative.
Later, Tomas suggested the name «Raptor Count Lebanon 2019» for our project. He also managed to raise some funds from OSME and together with SPNL he launched a call for volunteers to help with the counting. I myself received some funds for the project from BirdLife Switzerland and BirdLife Luzern (the local BirdLife partner where I live) as well as some donations from personal friends.
Our project is one of several initiatives that aim at reducing the widespread and rampant poaching in Lebanon. Beside the local nature protection organisations such as the «Society for Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL)», the «Association for Bird Conservation in Lebanon (ABCL)» and «Lebanese Wildlife», the German NGO «Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS)» have also been very active for three years. In addition to that it is important to mention that even on highest political levels, there is a great effort to stop poaching. Michel Aoun, the President of Lebanon, pronounced himself for a rigid implementation of the hunting law and the Internal Security Forces (ISF) arrested poachers in several cases and made this public in the national and social media.