EVALUATION STUDY OF UNSUSTAINABLE BIRD HUNTING: THE CENTRAL MARSHES AS A MODEL
The Marshlands of Lower Mesopotamia are one of the most important wetlands systems in the Middle East, and are of environmental, social and cultural importance as they support a large natural diversity. The area represents a social ecosystem that has spanned thousands of years with the marshes inhabitants dependent on the resources of these wetlands available through bird hunting, fishing, cutting reeds and buffalo rearing.
The marshes are one of the largest wintering areas for ducks of the West Eurasia-Caspian-Nile Flyway, and they are an important area for coastal birds that migrate across West Asia to East Africa. They contribute significantly to migration flyways of global importance between continents and are important for the breeding populations of migratory waterfowl along Western Asia. In addition, the marshes are very important wintering areas for many raptor and passerine species.
The Iraqi government regime of the 1990s caused the drying of the Mesopotamian Marshes (including the Central Marshes) by building a network of channels to withdraw water and drain it towards the Gulf. This caused the near destruction of this ecosystem as well as the displacement of marsh communities and destruction of their traditional lives. After 2003, the Central Marshes were partially re-flooded, the natural wetland ecosystem was partially restored and marsh residents returned to the area and took up their traditional lives again.
The Central Marshes are considered a resting area for large numbers of waterfowl coming from northern regions during the winter season, and also providing suitable habitats for breeding of many important birds species. According to the study presented in the book on the Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) of Iraq , the Central Marshes represented one of the most significant regions for birds in the country, and classify the area as an Important Bird Area (IBA) in Iraq.
Increasing population growth and increased demand for water accompanied by climate changes, decreasing rainfall rates at the regional level, and the construction of dams at the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, all have slowed the natural restoration of the marshes and have increased the threats of water shortages and possibly droughts during certain periods. These factors played a role in droughts in the Central Marshes in 2008-2009, the summer 2015 and in 2017-2018, which greatly affected the wildlife and the inhabitants living there.
Because of the global importance of the site, which meets natural reserve criteria, the Iraqi Council of Ministers announced the Central Marshes as Iraq’s first National Park (NP) in 2013, and submitted these as wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in October 2015.
In addition, the Central Marshes were recently included in the list of World Heritage Sites (UNESCO), as part of the file inclusion for the Mesopotamian Marshlands of Iraq in July 2016, which was considered one of the great national achievements that highlight the importance of these marshes globally.
For conservation of its biological diversity, Iraq ratified the agreement on the regulation of International Trade of Wildlife “Fauna and Flora” (CITES) in 2014, the agreement links wildlife and international trade with binding provisions, intending to conserve species and encourage sustainable use.
Iraq is also a signatory to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and Law No. 29 of 2016 was issued in this regard.
Despite all of these actions, the Central Marshes still suffer from neglect. The absence of a defined role for authorities over hunting, especially hunting that affects wild bird species is considered one of the main reasons that has lead to increasing pressure on these natural resources and their over-exploitation. There is extensive evidence regarding the prevalence of excessive hunting practices and their negative impacts in the marshes of southern Iraq in general and in the Central Marshes in particular, as it has caused a large reduction in the numbers of resident and migrant birds annually, and this has been documented in several studies and reports. This study was developed by the Tigris River Protectors Association (Humat Dijlah) to assess the status of bird hunting in the Central Marshes, to identify illegal practices in hunting, research their causes, and develop possible suggestions to address these issues.
We evaluated hunting in the Central Marshes National Park as a model for the state of hunting in the Iraqi marshes overall. We utilized a interview survey to gather information on these practices from a number of bird hunters identified in the area of the Central Marshes and also consulted references and available information from civil society organizations, as well as field observations.
We estimated that more than 50,000 birds are hunted annually, targeting 22 species of water birds (both resident and migrating), including globally threatened bird species, and confirmed that the Central Marshes within the designated National Park (NP) are subjected to illegal and unsustainable hunting on an annual basis.
Bird hunting occurs due to several reasons, including both economic and social. Hunted bird species are taken for the purpose of making money from their sale or using as the main source for food of the hunters’ families. Hunting is also conducted as a sporting practice. Our study documented illegal hunting activities and the tools that are used in hunting in the Central Marshes.
Finding alternative economic opportunities for hunters will mitigate and limit unsustainable hunting activities. Information from this study can contribute to identifying areas that should be protected from bird hunting and other unsustainable practices with the goal of bird conservation and wildlife protection. This will be instrumental to the success of the National Park management plan and it is what is needed to preserve the integrity of the marshlands ecosystem and biodiversity values that are necessary to maintain their status as a World Heritage Site.
To read the full report EVALUATION STUDY OF UNSUSTAINABLE BIRD HUNTING-5-May 2020 .