Conservation challenges in the Batumi bottleneck

December 19 2019

#Conservation programs #Bird watching

Conservation challenges in the Batumi bottleneck

Every fall, more than a million raptors migrate south through the country of Georgia where the Caucasus Mountains concentrate and funnel them through a narrow bottleneck along the Black Sea coast (read more). Thousands of buzzards and kites streaming past overhead is breathtaking and a true natural wonder.


Sadly, however, some locals interpret the migrating raptors as a sign of the abundance of nature and naturally see the opportunity to harvest from this abundance. Unfortunately, the sheer numbers of many species at the site is just because they are being concentrated here, and not necessarily because there are lots of them. The result is that likely more than 10.000 raptors are shot or caught in the greater Batumi area each year [1].



Anna Sandor / Batumi Raptor Count

Typically, the shooting of raptors will involve a few friends getting together on a hilltop, barbecuing or just relaxing while occasionally taking shots at birds flying close by. Evidently, the older, more experienced hunters are quite selective in focusing on Honey Buzzards (Pernis apivorus) – the favorite for eating – while younger hunters are more likely to also shoot at any larger bird flying past, using non-preferred species as target practice. This is of particular concern for the rarer harriers and eagles.

“We’ve spent a lot of time with hunters in the area, getting to know and understand them,” says Johannes Jansen of the Batumi Raptor Count (BRC), “our approach has always been non-confrontational as we feel it’s important to understand the magnitude and geographic distribution of the poaching, and then work with the locals, to educate them and their families about the uniqueness of the site; ultimately aiming to get them interested in observing and conserving their raptors.” Sabuko (BirdLife in Georgia), Fauna & Flora Intl. and others are now taking the lead in this critically important community work and are taking great strides in getting people on board with conservation thinking.



Bart Hoekstra / Batumi Raptor Count. Steppe Buzzards


Georgia became party to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) in 2000 [2] and the killing of migrating raptors is illegal. On top of this, only half of the people shooting raptors had a hunting license at all, evidently because the chance of being caught and the consequences thereof were minimal. At the end of the day, it is going to take greater efforts from the authorities to help preserve their natural treasure.



Batumi Raptor Count

While in Batumi this week, I had a heart-wrenching moment as a Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus) was hit by shotgun pellets. The eagle floundered briefly in the air, but thankfully was able to carry on flying. I fought back my outrage and a tear. The authorities responded five hours later. Effective policing and consequences need to go hand-in-hand with outreach programs in order to safeguard the future of Africa and Eurasia’s raptors.



About the author:
Dale Forbes is Swarovski Optik’s Head of Strategic Business Development and passionate about birding, wildlife and conservation. He used a BTX85 spotting scope and EL8x32 binoculars while in Georgia. Swarovski Optik has been supporting the Batumi Raptor Camp since 2010.


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