Nestled at the crossroads of Asia, Africa, and Europe, Türkiye unfolds its natural splendor like a vibrant tapestry. It possesses a unique topography, geomorphology, and climate and hosts exceptionally rich and diverse fauna and flora. So far, 500 bird species have been recorded – of which 370 are regularly observed – accounting for about 70% of European bird species.
This high diversity in avifauna has inevitably forged a bond between birds and human. Already 9000 years ago, this relationship was engraved with bright red paint on the walls of the Neolithic and Chalcolithic settlement, Çatalhöyük, in southern Anatolia. Cranes and storks frequently appear in Turkish mythology, folk songs, poems, and art.
Even today, when our connection with nature is on the verge of disappearing, shepherds and vultures are still in close contact. Vultures faithfully build their nests next to shepherd’s stockyards because they use the wool of the sheep and goats to build their nests. In return, vultures help shepherds find their lost animals.
Yet a concerning situation is unfolding for the birds of Türkiye. Despite their protected status, bird species face increasing illegal hunting every year.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the number of globally threatened species in Türkiye has increased fourfold in the last decade, reaching 400 species.
In order to hunt legally, one must complete a training, pay for a certificate, and renew a hunting permit by paying an annual fee. The hunters must adhere to the hunting quota, days, and areas set by the Central Hunting Commission. Licensed hunters can be inspected by officers as they must submit the place and time they hunt into the Hunting Information Management System (AVBIS).
Due to these ‘high’ requirements to hunt legally, many hunters do not officially register. In 2022, following the pro-hunting tourism policies of the authorities, the total number of hunting grounds was increased to 2,215, while only 30 bird species were officially allowed to be hunted. The number of registered hunters added up to 329,000. But it is estimated that at least three to four times this number of poachers were active in 2022 alone. Including in areas where hunting is not allowed.
There are simply not enough law enforcement officers and hunting inspectors to prevent illegal hunting activities.Remarkably, authorities decided to add endangered species to the lists of animals allowed to be hunted and increased hunting quotas, instead of increasing sanctions and penalties for poaching. It is also problematic that the Central Hunting Commission, which is mostly made up of hunters, rarely consults scientists and non-governmental organisations to make informed and science-based decisions on hunting criteria.
Our Partner Doga Dernegi is actively working to mitigate illegal hunting and wild animal trade. In 2018, they ran an anti-hunting campaign, bringing together over 230 NGOs working on a national and international scale in Türkiye. Hundreds of thousands of nature lovers called for the total ban of hunting of the European Turtle-dove (Streptopelia turtur) and the Common Pochard (Aythya ferina), both of which are have rapidly declining populations. Thanks to Doga’s actions, the Central Hunting Commission lowered the hunting quotas of the European Turtle-dove and the Common Pochard. The Commission also reduced the number of hunting days across the country from four to three. Doga also established an anti-poaching network.
The fight to protect biodiversity and defend the rights of nature is not over yet. But Doga untiringly carries on their work so that, one day, we can live in harmony with birds again.
Famed for its welcoming weather, Portugal is home to tits, robins, finches and other songbirds all year round. Their numbers swell in Autumn when birds from northern Europe seek refuge in milder climate. But for thousands of birds every year, the illusion of safety is shattered by the snap of bird traps.
An estimated 283,000 birds were
caught in traps in Portugal between
2011 and 2017, to be sold as pets or
eaten as a delicacy.
In most cases, the perpetrators went unpunished. This is mainly due to Portuguese law that only banned using traps, not making, owning, or selling them. Essentially, it meant that perpetrators had to be caught in the act of trapping birds.
The use of indiscriminate traps such as lime-sticks, snares, and snap-traps endangers bird populations and disrupts the balance of ecosystems, jeopardizing the health of agricultural fields since songbirds play a crucial role in pest control.
For years, our Portuguese Partner, SPEA, has worked tirelessly to bring this slaughter to the attention of authorities, politicians, and citizens. This effort resulted in a petition that gathered over 4000 signatures and forced the parliament to discuss a more comprehensive ban. As a result of this pressure, the law was revised in 2021: it now bans not only the use but also the sale of indiscriminate traps. Anyone selling these traps now risks fines of up to €18,000.
The updated law makes it more difficult to commit crimes against nature and enables authorities to intervene before any birds are captured or killed. Unfortunately, Portugal is not yet the haven it could be for songbirds, as a motion to ban the manufacture and ownership of traps was rejected.
Meanwhile, SPEA continues to carry out activities to ensure that the current law is effectively implemented on the ground. The organization has been working with all levels of the justice system – from police officers on the ground to prosecutors and judges in courtrooms – to raise awareness of the scale and impact of illegal bird trapping. The hope is that the illegal killing of birds will be taken more seriously, perpetrators will be appropriately punished, and others will be dissuaded from committing the same crimes.
A picturesque country where soft sandy beaches, clear lakes, fast rivers, and towering peaks can be found alike, makes Montenegro incredibly abundant with bird life. Out of the 533 registered bird species in Europe, 352 have been observed in Montenegro: that’s 65% of European ornitofauna!
But this small country, with barely 620.000 inhabitants, is a major danger zone for birds.
Each year between 64,000 and
197,000 birds are illegally killed.
The problem is especially pronounced when it comes to rare and protected bird species such as raptors, vultures, and migratory species – given that Montenegro is located on the Adriatic migratory corridor that connects Europe and Africa.
There are different reasons for poaching. The first one simply being recreation. Often, illegal methods such as plastic baits and electronic calling devices are used to attract birds en masse to a specific spot, making it easy to catch them. This happens both inside and outside the hunting season. The main species that are subject to these atrocious hunting methods are the Rock Partridge (Alectoris graeca), the Common Quail (Coturnix coturnix), and waterfowls.
Hunters make a considerable profit from killing and selling birds to restaurants that serve them as specialties. Black markets exist both in Montenegro and abroad with birds being smuggled and sold across borders. In Montenegro, the majority of foreign hunters come from Italy. The Eurasian Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola), the Rock Partridge (Alectoris graeca), and the Common Quail (Coturnix coturnix) are the main ingredients of these illegal dishes.
Shockingly, some poachers like to collect trophies and often have a preference for specimens of large, charismatic, and protected species such as raptors species, vultures, woodcocks (e.g. Tetrao urogallus, Bonasa bonasia) and large birds (e.g. Pelecanus crispus, Cygnus cygnus).
In the Zeta plain, the main agricultural region of Montenegro, crops are protected from birds by placing old fishing nets over them. This leads to a large number of birds being trapped and killed in the nets. Songbirds are the first victims as they inhabit forests, meadows, and hedgerows near agricultural fields. In reality, birds can be farmers’ best friends if given a chance as species like sparrows forage on insects and the Barn Owl feeds on mice, voles, and shrews.
But there is still hope for the birds of Montenegro! Since 2001, the Center for Protection and Research of Birds (CZIP) has continuously monitored poaching activities. So far, over 100 criminal charges have been filed against poachers across the country, hundreds of hunting hides have been destroyed, dozens of illegal calling devices have been confiscated, and thousands of shell casings have been collected as evidence. CZIP regularly reports to the police, the prosecutor’s office and the hunting inspectorate about the situation on the ground. During the hunting season, CZIP also monitors local markets where killed birds are sold for consumption. The consumption of wild meat might be dangerous as often birds are shot with lead ammunition, even though it is strictly prohibited by the AEWA agreement.
With over 200 volunteers, one of CZIP’s biggest strengths is their volunteering network that through its monitoring activities have helped reduce bird poaching in important bird habitats together with CZIP’s expert team. Thanks to information given by citizens and volunteers, CZIP has also filed criminal charges against the culprits of illegal hunting based on photos of killed protected birds published on social media. CZIP is actively advocating for a reform of the hunting system, the improvement of its respective laws and by-laws, and better law enforcement. In 2022, this amazing organization was supported by more than 7,000 citizens that signed their petition asking for the reform.
 Brochet at al. (2016) Preliminary assessment of the scope and scale of illegal killing and taking of birds in the Mediterranean.
Albania is a small and unique jewel in the Mediterranean with a rich historical, cultural, and natural heritage. Its diverse landscape boasts a remarkable natural coastline and hinterland, where you can still find virgin beaches as well as wild and dynamic rivers, natural coastal wetlands, freshwater lakes, and reedbeds. Four wetlands are designated Ramsar sites – wetlands of international importance – namely the Karavasta Lagoon, Butrinti Lake, Lake Shkodra and the River Buna, and the Prespa Lakes. The majority of wetlands in Albania are designated as Important Biodiversity Areas and all of them are part of important bird migration routes.
It is not a coincidence that the majestic Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) proudly features as the emblem of the country’s flag, forever intertwined with its national identity. Albania is also known as ‘Toka e Shqiponjave’ – ‘Land of Eagles’, and Albanians as ‘Bijtë e Shqipes’ – ‘Sons of the Eagle’. But sadly, the population of this awe-inspiring bird has dropped by over 50% in the last decade and the current number of breeding pairs is estimated to be only between 25 and 63. Threats such as poisoning, poaching, habitat loss, and human disturbance have been major driving factors in this drastic decline.
It is estimated that 206,000-325,000
birds are illegally killed or captured
each year in Albania.
This puts Albania in the top ten Mediterranean countries for cases of bird poaching, a record nobody could be proud of. The most problematic areas include the wetlands in the coastal areas, the Semani river outlet and the terrestrial areas of Terbufi, Tirana, Korca, Shkodra, and Elbasani. Despite having a hunting ban in place since 2014, most crimes are related to illegal shooting, exposing the lack of appropriate enforcement of legislation on hunting, fauna, biodiversity and protected areas.
Fortunately, the Albanian Ornithological Society (AOS) and the Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania (PPNEA) are committed to put an end to bird poaching. Gathering data and evidence on the occurrence of crimes in blackspots, black markets, pet shops, wild meat restaurants, and even online portals that trade wildlife is at the core of their work. Keeping records to demonstrate the scale of the problem in the country is crucial for their policy and advocacy work.
In July 2019, the Albanian Parliament adopted the amendments proposed and drafted by AOS for Law on the Protection of Fauna (Law No. 10 006). The amendments explicitly state that poisoning, the use of poison baits, and the use of agricultural chemicals and veterinary drugs are now prohibited. This also led to the formation of the National Wildlife Council in July 2021. The Council is tasked with protecting wild fauna and regulating hunting activities in Albania. It consists of representatives of the ministries, environmental NGOs – including AOS and PPNEA – hunter federations and associations, universities, and scientific research institutions.
In Albania, it remains as urgent as ever to raise awareness and educate people about the importance of protecting nature. Both organizations continuously engage with the wider public through an array of activities. The perseverance of AOS and PPNEA in their work gives us hope for a better future for birds in this beautiful country.
While being a small country, Serbia has incredibly diverse landscapes, ranging from flooded forests and reedbed swamps, to arid steppes and dramatic mountain gorges. Situated in south-east Europe and the western Balkans, the different climates and biomes make this landlocked country a heaven for biologists and geologists.
The northern plains of Serbia are marked by the presence of large rivers, marshes, and steppe grasslands with scattered woodlands. The region is also known as the national breadbasket thanks to its rich soils suitable for crop production. Central Serbia is characterized by both lowlands and hills covered by farm and woodland, whilst further west, south, and east, massive mountain ranges cover most of the area.
Sadly, wildlife in Serbia is seriously threatened by local and foreign hunters, who do not shy away from using illegal methods. The most attractive game species for foreign hunters are the Common Quail (Coturnix coturnix) and Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur).
During the summer months, it is estimated that poachers set up and use between 600 and 1,000 illegal calling devices in Serbia causing the death of over 100,000 quail each year.
On top of that, the calling devices also disrupt migration routes by attracting quails to rest in the most unsuitable habitats such as dried-out arable lands that are excessively treated with pesticides. Insufficiently recovered, many quail do not reach their winter destinations, and an extremely small percentage will return to their nesting grounds in spring. Another common activity is the trapping of birds with traps, nets, and glue, which if they somehow manage to escape will most likely still die from injuries and stress.
The Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia (BPSSS) has been dealing with the topic of illegal hunting for over 20 years. Its Serbian Bird Crime Task Force is specialized in combating wildlife crime. Years of field and advocacy work followed by a big campaign in 2021 resulted in an important change in national legislation. The Rulebook on Declaring a Closed Hunting Season for the Protected Wild Game Species now includes a temporary ban on Turtle Dove hunting, which will last until August 14, 2024. A temporary ban on hunting was also introduced for Grey Partridges (Perdix perdix) and will last until October 14, 2024. The amendments also included the shortening of the hunting season for the Common Quail.
Situated at the junction of the Alps, the Dinaric Mountains, the Pannonian Basin and the Adriatic Sea, Slovenia is amongst the most topographically diverse countries in Europe. The outstretched landscape is home to more than 22,000 plant and animal species, including those that are rare or endangered. 388 different bird species have already been observed in Slovenia, of which 243 – more than half(!) – are also nesting in the country.
All native bird species are protected by law, except for the domestic pigeon Columba livia domestica and six huntable bird species: the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius), Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica), Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix), Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), and the Gray Partridge (Perdix perdix) that isbred by humans. Until recently, Slovenia was considered by many to be a safe haven for birds, without any notorious poaching hotspots in the country…
But in reality, nothing could have been further from the truth. In 2018, DOPPS – BirdLife Slovenia – started to systematically record cases of illegal bird killings. Soon, the realisation came that the crime against birds is significantly higher than initially believed with an estimation of 3,500-52,000 birds being illegally caught and killed each year in Slovenia. But sadly, that’s not all. Due to its geographical location, Slovenia is also a critical country for bird smugglers, along with Croatia and Hungary.
35,000-156,000 birds annually are
smuggled across Slovenia’s borders
to enter the Italian black market.
Slovenia – a transit country for bird smugglers
Despite the seriousness and scale of the problem, the prevention and detection of bird smuggling is still bafflingly low. In Slovenia, nature and environmental crimes are often considered of minor importance. The trafficking of birds is not taken seriously by the law and legal authorities, reflected in the low fines the criminals that are caught must pay.
But there is hope. DOPPS is mobilizing all its energy and efforts to improve the situation for our feathered friends in Slovenia by focusing on the detection of bird trafficking and putting effective measures in place to reduce the smuggling of birds across its borders. By addressing the gaps in Slovenian legislation, showcasing good practices, and incentivising key stakeholders, including cooperating with authorities such as the police, customs, and prosecution services, DOPPS will turn the tide for birds in Slovenia.
On the eastern coast of Africa, engulfing the equator, lies Kenya. It is right in the middle of a tremendously diverse area, bordering Ethiopia and South Sudan to the north, Somalia and the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the south, and Lake Victoria and Uganda to the west. The East African nation is famed for its scenic landscapes, including the Great Rift Valley and mountain highlands, and vast wildlife preserves, notably the iconic Maasai Mara Reserve and Amboseli National Park.
The country proudly hosts over 1,100 bird species spread across different habitat types. Alas, some of these birds are in grave danger: if we do not act now, the threats that they face could drive them to extinction. Our feathered friends are threatened by illegal killing, habitat loss and degradation, and the climate crisis.
Wildlife poisoning, electrocution, collision with energy infrastructure, and trapping are among the leading sources of harm to Kenya’s birds. Due to human-wildlife conflict, birds of prey, especially vultures, become fatal victims of poisoning – even though this is a criminal offence under Kenyan law. Since just August 2019, 70 vultures (56 White-backed Vultures (Gyps africanus), 11 Lappet-faced Vultures (Torgos tracheliotos) and three Rüppell’s Vultures (Gyps ruepelli)), as well as two Tawny Eagles have tragically succumbed to poisoning in the southern rangelands of Kenya.
There is a ray of hope for these birds, however. Nature Kenya, BirdLife’s partner in Kenya, is working with the community in southern rangelands to stop wildlife poisoning. Nature Kenya has trained and equipped a network of community members called ‘Vultures Volunteers’ to respond to wildlife poisoning incidents within this landscape. The volunteers work closely with Nature Kenya’s Vultures Liaison Officers and other organisations, such as the Kenya Wildlife Service and The Peregrine Fund to reduce vulture mortalities. The Vulture Volunteers also conduct awareness raising work to educate the community on the effects of wildlife poisoning and the value of vultures; and they collect precious data on human-wildlife conflict. While Kenya’s birds of prey may face serious threats, they also have many loyal friends fighting for their safety!
Zambia is a landlocked country at the crossroads of Central, Southern and East Africa. It is rich in both natural resources and biological diversity, being both a vital range state for many bird populations and a significant stronghold for several other rare, endangered and endemic bird species.
Zambia is home to as many as 21 globally threatened bird species. A significant number of those face a spine-chilling threat: illegal killing. The Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius), which has been classified as Endangered due to recent evidence suggesting that it is experiencing severe declines, owing in part to the hunting, capture and trade of this unusual-looking species. The Southern Ground-hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) is also subject to trade and persecution, as well as secondary poisoning (when it ingests a poisoned animal); along with the Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) which is the victim of both deliberate and incidental poisoning.
However, the biggest conservation threat that Zambia currently faces is poisoning of vultures, both intentional and accidental.
Zambia holds significant populations of three critically endangered and one endangered vulture species. These are the White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus), White-headed Vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis), Hooded Vulture (Nechrosyrtes monachus) and Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotos).
Poison is the biggest threat to vultures worldwide, and it has been escalating at an alarming rate across Africa in recent years. In Zambia, pesticides are driving the death of vultures, both accidentally and deliberately. One serious issue is the deliberate poisoning of large mammals’ carcasses by poachers. Since vultures circling a carcass can be seen from miles away, this helps park rangers track illegal poaching. Therefore, as poachers kill elephants for ivory, they will lace their carcasses with poison so that the vultures that feed on them perish and don’t give away their crime.
There is hope for our Zambia’s birds, however: BirdLife partner BirdWatch Zambia is fighting for our feathered friends’ lives. Formerly known as the Zambian Ornithological Society, BirdWatch Zambia’s mission is to promote the study, conservation, and general interest in birds and their habitats in Zambia. For years, it has been protecting Zambia’s savannah species, tackling illegal killing by establishing vulture safe zones on game farms in the Luangwa Valley, running outreach and education programmes, rapid poisoning response training, vulture tagging, population monitoring, and working with local communities and stakeholders to improve outcomes for Zambia’s endangered vulture populations.