How the illegal killing of birds is infecting social media
by Lilla Barabas, Ph.D. Project Coordinator for LIFE against bird crime at BirdLife Europe & Central Asia
For as much pleasure as Facebook can bring in sharing memories and thoughts with friends & family, we have seen in recent years that it also plays a nefarious role in our democracies and can facilitate the dark underbellies of our society. Our world of conservation and nature protection is not spared.
Have you ever come across shocking images of cruelty against birds while scrolling down your Facebook wall? What did you do about it?
Did you react with an angry emoji or comment? Did you tag a nature conservation society to demand action? Perhaps you wondered whether these images could even be real. Have you ever wondered if anything happens to bring the perpetrators of these acts to justice?
If you care for birds like we do – or if you simply have respect for life – you probably did. Come and join us as we investigate a few recent cases
(WARNING: explicit graphic images depicting animal cruelty).
How one Facebook photo exposed an international conservation treaty violation
It is infuriating, but not uncommon, to see advertisements inviting hunters to shoot migratory birds in foreign countries with weaker nature protection laws. In this particular post, an Italian company unabashedly offered waterbird-killing holidays in North Macedonia. They used an image showing several freshly-killed duck species, including Ferruginous Ducks: a threatened species of international conservation concern.
Hunting these threatened ducks is illegal for signatories of the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement – an international conservation treaty under the umbrella of the United Nations Environment Programme. As it turns out, North Macedonia has signed this treaty – so why was the hunting company claiming it was legal there?
The Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) reported this to North Macedonia’s Ministry of Environment. Shockingly, they claimed that the hunting the threatened Ferruginous Duck was indeed legal in the country: a clear violation of the conservation treaty. This case is still ongoing…
Discovering a mass illegal killing in a nature reserve
A disturbing video was discovered in a Tunisian hunters’ Facebook group: the illegal killing of hundreds of birds. This mass illegal killing was originally thought to have taken place in Tunisia, but it soon turned out from the language that the recording itself originated in Iraq.
It goes from bad to worse: after some research, the scene of the massacre was identified as a nature reserve… The Dalmaj marsh Nature Reserve, to be exact. Following this discovery, we contacted our Iraqi partner, Nature Iraq. Nature Iraq works closely together with the ministry of Health and Environment to collect information about unsustainable bird hunting. This particular case was followed-up directly with the Directorate of Environment in Diwaniyah. We hope the authorities will be able to prevent cases like these from happening again in the future.
When the internet is a marketplace for illegal wildlife trade
There’s another type of crime that is rampant on social media sites: the illegal trade of wild bird species. Many BirdLife partners routinely monitor Facebook groups and online markets to identify these illegal practices, which are then reported to the police.
This example is a recent success story about an online advert offering two young Kestrels for sale in Serbia. Less than 24 hours after receiving the information, the Environmental Inspection contacted police officers from the Criminal Investigation Unit of the Police Department in Šid, who subsequently conducted a house search in the village of Jamena, where they finally rescued the two little birds.
Another recent success story concerns online shopping websites Amazon and Ebay: both companies removed dozens of offers of bird traps and catching devices from their websites after the Italian office of the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) uncovered the extent of the illegal bird trap trade on their platforms and filed a report.
It doesn’t take long to uncover numerous similar examples all over social media. These are not just rare occurrences, but everyday problems. We all have the responsibility to report these illegal and harmful practices to the police or nature protection organisations. As the above cases have shown, reporting these posts can help break up harmful criminal activity – and ultimately, save birds’ lives.
At BirdLife, our partner organisations across the world work hard to prevent harm to birds and make sure bird-killing criminals are brought to justice. They can’t do it alone: we need you to take action and report bird crime whenever you see it on social media. You could save lives.