Sunday, August 20, 2006

Iraqi Hunters and Conservation

I came across the website of the Iraqi Hunters Association . The gallery has a few photos from hunts in Iraq showing Black Francolin, Ruddy Shelducks and Greylag Geese. There is also a wildlife page with some interesting commentary on different species of Iraqi game and non-game wildlife. According to the site the Houbara Bustard has declined significantly and methods such as using nets and lights (jacklighting) are used to hunt them. They suggest all methods be banned except for the traditional use of trained falcons.

The website got me thinking about hunting and conservation. Among the goals of the association are setting bag limits for species that have populations that can support hunting and banning the taking of species that are threatened. They also espouse the conservation of habitat and better land management.

Prior to the war, hunting was popular in Iraq. One of our clinics near Baghdad was Saddam Hussein's hunting lodge. In the winter, good numbers of waterfowl come to the surrounding lakes. These days walking around with a shotgun or hunting rifle just might get you killed.

In the US there are many hunting organizations that have a large conservation component such as Ducks Unlimited and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Hunters are often natural partners in conservation and have a deep appreciation for nature. Some organizations and governments have conducted auctions of big game hunting permits to fund conservation programs. The US Fish and Wildlife Service issues Federal Duck stamps to fund the National Wildlife Refuge program. Every US hunter must purchase a stamp annually if they want to hunt migratory waterfowl. The money is used to buy or lease wetland habitat.

I think its a good sign that there are people in Iraq thinking about sustainable hunting. There may be opportunities for international groups to get involved. Perhaps correct management of some big game animals such as gazelle or Ibex could allow limited hunting where licenses could fund local conservation programs. The verdict is still out on the cost-benefit of these type of programs, but it could be an option. In Pakistan limited trophy hunting of Markhor, Ibex and Blue Sheep have shown some success. License fees have allowed game wardens to be hired and significantly reduced poaching since it cuts into the local communities potential revenues. Hunting permits for the endangered Markhor are auctioned and went for 25,000 to 55,000 US dollars last year.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

More Birding from the Victory Base Complex

John and Marc have some great pictures up on the Yahoo group Operation Iraqi Birds. Both are serving on the Victory Base Complex in Baghdad and seeing some good birds.

Among recent sightings have been Little Grebe, Pygmy Cormorant, 3 species of Kingfishers (Pied, Common and White-breasted), Wattled, Spur-winged and White-tailed Plovers, Black-winged Stilt, Common and Iraq Babblers, Squacco Heron, Little Egret, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Black Francolin, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Rufous Bush Robin, Magpie and Graceful Prinia. There are many nice photos in the gallery on the OIBirds site.

One of the recent pictures showed at least 3 additional species of smaller shorebirds (One was most likely a redshank). Now is the time to start looking for the migrants coming from the far north.