In ancient Egyptian mythology, Horus, who had the head of a falcon, was the god of the sky. In today’s Egyptian sky, however, falcons are revered more for the price they fetch on the black market than for their sacred status.
Millions of birds are illegally killed in Egypt every single year.
Egypt lies in a strategic location for migratory birds, connecting the African continent with Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The Nile Delta and the Mediterranean coast is home to a variety of natural ecosystems and habitats that are crucial for the survival of birds during their migration. Egypt boasts a total of 34 internationally recognised Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas (IBAs).
The hunting of migratory birds is a long-established tradition in the region. For thousands of years, Egyptians have been taking part in hunting activities, specifically during autumn migration. However, in recent times, hunting practices have become more widespread and intensive, leading to an increase in the illegal and unsustainable hunting of migratory birds. This includes the indiscriminate killing and taking of a variety of species, such as the European Turtle-dove (Streptopelia turtur), Eurasian Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus), Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus), Eurasian Collared-dove (Streptopelia decaocto), Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio), Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos), and a number of wheatear species.
From a legal perspective, hunting is permitted in certain seasons for 24 bird species, while an annual Ministerial Decree determines which species can be hunted and trapped, and when. Egypt is a signatory to all of the major international conventions and agreements that aim to conserve biodiversity and migratory species. Many of the stipulated obligations have been transposed into Egyptian law by the Egyptian Constitution of 2014, and integrated into Egypt’s Environmental Conservation Law, its executive regulations, and the relevant ministerial decrees that manage and regulate hunting practices on annual basis.
While the Egyptian government has recognised the importance of this issue and has undertaken steps to reduce the illegal killing of migratory birds within its border via a National Action Plan on the illegal killing of birds, unfortunately, implementing this commitment has proven to be a challenge. Indiscriminate hunting has become commonplace in Egypt, with a large number of migratory species caught as illegal incidental catches during the legal trapping of Common Quail (Coturnix coturnix).
Illegal hunting and trapping is both a traditional pastime and, for some, a vital source of income. Illegally caught birds are served in restaurants and sold in markets across Egypt, as well as to international buyers, in particular for high-value species such as birds of prey destined for falconry sports in the Arabian Peninsula.
Nature Conservation Egypt (NCE) is working with the government and civil society to protect birds in Egypt. From outreach and alternative livelihood programmes with hunter communities, to collaborations with schools, universities and community leaders; NCE is fostering a sense of pride in Egypt’s role as a steward of its own natural heritage. An Action Plan to address the illegal trapping of birds on the Mediterranean coast was developed with the Egyptian government and international institutions. The results of NCE’s ongoing illegal killing monitoring programme will provide robust data on the illegal killing crisis, which will be a fundamental tool for guiding future conservation efforts to counter the illegal killing of birds in Egypt and beyond.