As hundreds of millions of birds return to Europe from their wintering grounds in Africa, an estimated 25 million will not reach their destination.
This disclosure was made by the Rainforest Rescue, a not-for-profit group, as it recently embraced a campaign to halt the slaughter of migratory birds.
Indeed, twice a year, hundreds of millions of birds migrate between their breeding grounds in Europe and wintering grounds in Africa, often flying thousands of kilometres.
With the Mediterranean Sea as a natural barrier, most birds either take a westerly route along the coasts of France and Spain, or an easterly one across the Middle East. Another major migratory route goes down the length of Italy, crossing the Mediterranean via Malta.
Reinhard Behrend of Rainforest Rescue said: “With each migration, an estimated 25 million birds never reach their destination: they face a gauntlet of ‘sportsmen’ with guns, as well as the nets and snares of poachers – from tiny songbirds to storks and cranes, none are safe. The most dangerous countries for birds are said to be Italy and Egypt, but bird hunting is also common in other countries such as France, Spain, Malta, Cyprus and Lebanon.
“Some of the netted and snared birds are sold alive, but most are plucked and frozen. The tiny bodies of songbirds such as robins and nightingales, as well as turtledoves, quail and wild ducks end up on the plates of ‘gourmets’ in restaurants. Some birds of prey such as falcons are sold alive to wealthy ‘bird lovers’ in the Gulf States for their private aviaries.”
While all of this is illegal, the authorities in the relevant countries seem to have other priorities, he added, pointing out that the poachers also consider endangered species to be fair game.
An estimated 12 million birds fall victim to poachers in Egypt alone every year, Rainforest Rescue states, disclosing that the number appears to have gone down recently – due essentially to declining populations of migratory birds.
The group is seeking signatories to a petition calling on the governments of Mediterranean countries to put an end to the slaughter and trafficking of birds.