A new study, has for the first time, estimated the scale and extent of the illegal killing and taking of wild birds in the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and Iran. Using a diverse range of data sources and incorporating expert knowledge, we estimate that at least 1.7–4.6 million birds of at least 413 species may be killed or taken illegally each year in this region, many of them on migration. Worryingly, this is likely to be an underestimate as data were unavailable for parts of the region. The highest illegal killing/ taking figures were mean estimates of 1.7 million birds per year in part of Saudi Arabia and 800,000 birds in part of Iran, despite in both cases data only being available only for part of the country. Estimates of illegal killing and taking in Iraq and Yemen were also relatively high with 329,000 and 273,000 birds on average estimated to be illegally killed or taken each year.
Illegal killing and taking poses a global threat to biodiversity and has attracted international attention. For example, in 2014 the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), to which most of the countries from this review are Parties, adopted a Resolution to prevent illegal killing, taking and trade of migratory birds in 2014 (UNEP/CMS 2014).
Worryingly, in this latest study, several species of global conservation concern were illegally killed or taken, including Marbled Teal, Common Pochard and European Turtle-dove (all classified by BirdLife International as Vulnerable on the global IUCN Red List). Of greater concern, Sociable Lapwing (Critically Endangered) was also reported to be known or likely to be killed illegally each year in relatively high numbers relative to its small population size. Illegal shooting and illegal trapping were the two most prevalent methods and birds were reported to be illegally killed or taken primarily for sport, but also for food, mainly as a delicacy.
In several countries illegal killing and taking was widespread throughout the country, but for other countries particular worst locations were identified. These included the Caspian Sea coast in Iran and the mountainous Kurdistan region of Iraq with more than 100,000 birds a year estimated to be illegally killed/ taken in each location and waterbirds particularly affected. Both Iran and Iraq provide important staging and wintering areas for migratory birds, especially waterbirds, and high levels of take may be a factor driving population declines of waterbirds in the Central Asian flyway.