Bird Hunting: Environmental Conservation or Massacre?

Each hunter earns between $12,000 and $36,500 of profit every month from the trade of birds. Each hunter earns between $12,000 and $36,500 of profit every month from the trade of birds.

The large-scale bird hunting in the international Fereydounkenar Wetland in Mazandaran Province has been a controversial topic for years.

Some believe the practice should be sustained, as it helps conserve the wetlands while others argue that conservation is a lame excuse for the huge profit earned from the cruel trapping of migratory birds that takes place annually and is likely to tarnish Iran’s image.

Lisa Pourlak, an environmental expert with 20 years of experience in Fereydounkenar, is an advocate of bird hunting and believes it is vital for the survival of the wetlands, ISNA reported.

“The local people have maintained the wetlands in good conditions for birds and gain benefit from it as well, without which their conservation measures would not make sense,” she said.

The area of the wetlands is almost dry during the warm season and serves as paddy-fields. In autumn and winter, water flows in and forms a water body that can host migratory birds.

Locals dredge all water streams to ensure a standard depth of water, ban public entry and supply sufficient food before conducting the hunting and massacre of the birds.

Pourlak defends the practice by saying that in case of a ban on bird hunting, indigenous methods of preservation will most likely stop and cause the death of the wetlands.

“If bird markets decline and protection of the wetlands becomes too difficult or costly for these people, hunters will soon turn to other jobs leaving the wetland to dry up or serve other purposes,” she said.

According to the environmental expert, the best strategy at present is to support traditional hunting methods and allow the capture of edible species with a low conservation status in return for the preservation of wetlands for the winter stay of more vulnerable birds. Pourlak said matter-of-factly that conservation and exploitation go hand in hand.

However, Mohammad Ali Allahqoli, also an environment and wildlife expert, begs to differ and argues that the birds would be much safer if they did not stop at the wetlands.

“If Fereydounkenar was a safe place, there would not have remained only a single Siberian Crane by now,” he said, referring to the only surviving crane that has been migrating alone for 10 years. The last cranes were killed in Fereydounkenar in 2008-09, in spite of an international project to protect and revive the species at a cost of $1.2 million.

Allahqoli noted that other species in the area are facing the same fate.

“Creating a slaughterhouse under the pretext of conservation is a deception,” he said.

He noted that traditional hunting methods were eco-friendly and did not pose a risk to species, but modern techniques are far more common in the region.

According to Allahqoli, at least 100 Eurasian teals are trapped in Fereydounkenar every day, each of which is traded for 150,000 rials ($3.5), which means hunters earn 15 million rials ($375) each month from the sale of teals alone.

And this is only the minimum income, as the price of other species ranges from 300,000 to 2 million rials ($7-48) and if a hunter is lucky to trap a falcon, he will earn 300 million rials ($7,100).  In other words, each trap owner earns between 500 million and 1.5 billion rials ($12,000-$36,500) of profit every month from the trade of birds.

“These people would not easily let go of such a huge profit. In such a situation, raising awareness cannot substitute law enforcement,” he said.

The persistence of the practice will destroy any chances of promoting other activities such as ecotourism and bird-watching.

“The enormous profit is gained by a limited number of people while ecotourism can be a source of fair and nonviolent income for a greater population during autumn and winter through businesses such as restaurants, hotels, tour guides, handicrafts and local goods markets,” he said.

Fereydounkenar, Ezbaran and Sorkhroud have been collectively registered as Iran’s 22nd wetland of international importance on the Ramsar List.

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