In January of this year we posted a ‘Welcome Wednesday’ post by Mike Pope, an ex-pat South African living in Kuwait whom I’d birded with in September 2008.
Mike is Chair of the Kuwait Ornithological Records Committee (KORC), runs the excellent Birding Kuwaitwebsite, is a superb photographer (genuinely, his photos are as good as most of those published by professionals and are posted on his website at 800px wide so every detail is there for all to see), and is one of those men who are just ‘cool’ (even in the heat of the Kuwaiti desert). He’s also a very nice guy, great company, and passionate about Kuwait, its birds, and local conservation issues.
In this follow-up post Mike describes the incomprehensively casual and shamefully wasteful slaughter of migrants birds in Kuwait – and asks, in a reference to Malta, whether Kuwait and its hunters should now fall “under the microscope of world’s environmental and conservation attention due to the indiscriminate and incessant killing of migratory birds”. In my opinion – yes.
THE KILLING FIELDS OF KUWAIT
I am from South Africa, a ‘world in one country’ because of the rich diversity it offers both its residents and visitors. Believe me, it has plenty to offer no matter what your interests, sports or hobbies are. We are blessed in South Africa with a truly magnificent and rich wildlife heritage with large areas of land set aside as game reserves which are conserved and protected so that all of its people and of course the many thousands of visitors who visit annually, can experience and enjoy the wildlife our country has to offer.
A lot of effort has gone into conservation, protection and bio-diversity projects and as a result this is one of the major tourism income generators for our country. Our people care deeply and respect this wildlife treasure and do all they can to ensure it is protected and can be enjoyed for many generations to come.
South Africa has a rich diversity of birds – almost 950 species – of which a big percentage is made up of migrants from the northern hemisphere. These migratory birds undertake epic journeys when they fly south at the end of their breeding season in September to spend time enjoying the southern hemisphere summer before returning north in April to again commence another breeding cycle in the northern hemisphere summer. In South Africa we have very strict firearm laws; who can own them and where they can be discharged. As a result indiscriminate shooting of wildlife is just not heard of or even seen.
Migration occurs in many different species from mammals and birds to insects and fish and it is one of the greatest and most remarkable spectacles on planet earth. Only 2-months ago, Kuwait experienced what must have been one of the biggest Painted Lady (medium sized brown butterflies that almost everyone must have noticed) migrations to have been seen in many years. Thousands of butterflies flying across Kuwait in a north westerly direction over at least 3 to 4 weeks was a spectacle to behold.
I am a birder and photographer and am astounded that our migratory birds choose to fly through Kuwait on their way to and from their breeding grounds in the north. Astounded in that they cover unimaginable distances across the most hostile habitats and environments in their quest to sustain and increase the species and humbled that I have the opportunity whilst living and working in Kuwait to be a witness to this migration.
Most Kuwaiti’s are oblivious that this phenomenon occurs in their country twice a year. When we show locals and school children our pictures of birds taken in Kuwait, most do not believe that they have been taken in Kuwait, so already there is an opportunity to educate. We are a small and dedicated group of birders and photographers in Kuwait trying to spread the awareness about birding through the various local conservation organisations, our Blogs, talks at the Aware Center, articles in newspapers and magazines and our annual Kuwait Bird Report, but it is a long road and one that we will not give up on.
However, what tears me and my birding (both local, ex-pat and the many visiting international birders we have hosted each migration) colleagues apart the most is that the wildlife (and especially birds) we protect so vigorously in South Africa as well as in Europe appears to be held in contempt by a minority who have absolutely no respect for others, their environment and the value of life of animals and birds that deservedly share this world with us….
European Bee-eater Merops apiaster
The shooters of Kuwait are a minority group of people who are selfish and consider that migratory birds are just there for them to kill relentlessly and indiscriminately for no apparent reason other than boredom and target practice.
Some birds admittedly are killed for the kitchen, but usually as many as possible. Self restraint and preservation is not a consideration and I have seen photographs of hunters standing proudly with their spoils all neatly lined up row after row, like the arrested drug smugglers in the Kuwait Times – what is the pride in that? Gone are the days when hunting was considered a regal sport and sport of kings with horses and falcons. Now it is 4 x 4’s with people and guns hanging out of the windows racing at speed across the desert often in competition with other shooters chasing and killing Turtle Dove, Bee-eaters, Sandgrouse, Bustards and when these can’t be found anything else that sadly comes across their path whether it has nutritional value or not.
If not this method, then setting up huge rings of spotlights at night in the middle of the desert to create a false illusion of daylight and a safe landing place for sandgrouse and plovers, only to shoot every single one when they come in to land. Or camping outside a desert oasis, in comfortable chairs with umbrellas shooting anything that flies over and not even bothering to pick up or look at what they have killed.
However, it is not only 4 x 4’s but shooters head out to sea in boats with shotguns shooting terns that breed on the off-shore islands during the height of summer. If that isn’t enough then it is much more fun to go stomping across the breeding grounds to see how many eggs you can break – come on, what is going on here?
European Roller Coracias garrulus
I ask myself is this behavior just isolated to Kuwait?
I have travelled to Bahrain, UAE and Oman and have not witnessed such uncaring and lawless behavior. Is it the attitudes of those people that is different. Is it because Conservation and Protection is enforced and taken seriously by the authorities and are the laws tougher regarding the ownership and use of firearms?
Whilst birding in Oman last year, I visited the Khawr Rawri Nature Reserve. A signpost at the entrance, that I wish we could see all over Kuwait, read:
Sultanate of Oman – Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs
Khawr Rawri Nature Reserve
Nature Reserve according to Royal Decree (49/97)
The almighty God said “There is not an animal
On the earth, nor a bird on the wing which is not
Part of your community” (The Holy Koran, Sura 6, Aya 38)
It is strictly prohibited to:
- Fish without obtaining a permit
- Cut or damage trees and plants
- Hunt, disturb or harm birds or collect their eggs
- Graze any animals within the Khawr boundaries
- Dump waste and drive off the roads
People contravening these regulations will be liable for
Prosecution in terms of the laws and regulation of the Sultanate of Oman
“Protection of the environment is the
Responsibility of us all”
Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus
Kuwait has the potential to have a rich avian biodiversity if we can nurture and protect rather than slaughter. This could become a fantastic revenue generator for birding related tourism that could be on par with or surpass Israel – normally considered as the Number 1 birding hotspot that international birders flock to each migration. However, no-one wants to stand watching and photographing birds while shotgun pellets rain down on them as happened to our group last weekend. We should be doing all we can to protect species which generally have the odds stacked against them, together with a human population that is expanding exponentially and is taking more than it gives back to Planet Earth.
Kuwait finds itself on one of the major bird migration routes in the world and could lead the way with conservation and firearm policies that others would look up to and follow to ensure that migratory as well as resident birds are protected and given a safe passage when they stop over to rest and replenish in this marvel called migration. If the powers that be could take note, there is much to be done and so much opportunity to put Kuwait on the international birding map.
Perhaps Kuwait should be lumped with Malta and fall under the microscope of world’s environmental and conservation attention due to the indiscriminate and incessant killing of migratory birds?
This could hopefully spur the authorities together with the dedicated public organisations (of which there are many) that are committed to bring change through consolidated action to halt the shooting, setting aside reserves to ensure protection and preservation of all species and embark on a national educational awareness program to promote eco-tourism in Kuwait with the objective of ensuring that Kuwait has a sustainable conservation heritage that all Kuwaitis could enjoy and be very proud of.
But until that happens, I feel completely helpless, outraged and get sick to my stomach when I see mine and my country’s future generations wildlife heritage getting blown out of the sky by people who don’t know where these birds have come from or where they are going to and actually do not really care either way.
So, the killing fields in Kuwait will continue every Spring and Autumn of every year until something is done, or there are no longer any more birds left to kill.