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IRAN

Iran’s wetlands: a ‘real massacre’ for migratory birds

5 min

Every fall, millions of migratory birds from all over Europe head to Iran. One of their favoured destinations is the wetlands near Fereydunkenar, in the country’s north. Some of the birds stay there; for others, it’s just a pit stop on their way south. It is illegal to hunt them, but many locals do, and the latest reports are appalling: an estimated one million migratory birds were killed this past year in Fereydunkenar, which amounts to half of all those who sought refuge there.

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Birds on sale at the Fereydunkenar market. 

Every fall, millions of migratory birds from all over Europe head to Iran. One of their favoured destinations is the wetlands near Fereydunkenar, in the country’s north. Some of the birds stay there; for others, it’s just a pit stop on their way south. It is illegal to hunt them, but many locals do, and the latest reports are appalling: an estimated one million migratory birds were killed this past year in Fereydunkenar, which amounts to half of all those who sought refuge there.

Birds for sale at the Fereydunkenar market.

This represents a sharp rise over the year before, when about 700,000 migratory birds were killed, according to local NGOs. These birds include rare birds, such as white-headed ducks and greater scaup ducks.

"People have found a new, easy way to kill the birds"

Saman is an environmental activist in Fereydunkenar.

This year we witnessed a real massacre. The reason the killings have gotten so much worse is because people have found a new, easy way to kill the birds. They use what we call “air nets”, which are very thin, transparent plastic nets. Hunters put these up all around ponds, and then place decoys in the water so that the migratory birds will see them and think it’s a safe place to land. The nets are invisible to the birds, so they fly right into them and get completely tangled up. Then, all the hunters have to do is come and collect them! It’s simple and cheap, and can bring a lot of revenue to locals, who suffer from a high unemployment rate. Some farmers even have ponds in their backyards, and set up their “air nets” there.

Air nets in the wetlands. 

People sell the birds at the city’s big bird bazaar. The bazaar has become so famous that people come from faraway cities just to buy birds there. There are two different types of customers: professional buyers looking for rare and beautiful birds for taxidermy, and regular people who want to cook them. The supply is so vast that prices are falling every year. For example, last year, a white-headed duck or greater scaup duck cost about 20 euros, but this year it’s only about 10 euros.

 

Wildlife rangers taking down air nets. 

 

“The fines are not enough of a deterrent”

We never see anyone get arrested, and the fines – on the rare occasions they are given – are not enough of a deterrent. [Editor’s Note: the fine for hunting migratory birds is about 250 euros.] This year, Iran’s Department of the Environment tried to stop the massacre by sending about 70 wildlife rangers to monitor the area. They were tasked with removing the air nets, but they were unable to because they faced too much resistance from locals. People fought to keep their nets up or just put up new ones.

Ducks for sale. 

As activists, we’re doing our best to inform people about the importance of saving migratory birds, especially those that are endangered. Amateur hunters, farmers and their customers often don’t realize the impact of “hunting just a dozen birds” or “buying just one bird”. So we’ve created an online campaign to sensitize them to the issue.

Two types of owls for sale. 

A shop in Fereydunkenar.

A golden eagle for sale. 

Post written with France 24 journalist Ershad Alijani (@ErshadAlijani). 

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