Rock Partridge hunting in Montenegro banned for three years
By Shaun Hurrell, Jelena Delić, Wed, 03/02/2016 – 10:00
Thanks to increasing pressure and a campaign from the Centre for the Protection and Research of Birds of Montenegro (CZIP, BirdLife Partner) and the Montenegrin Customs Authority, a three-year moratorium has been issued against the illegal hunting, killing and smuggling of Rock Partridge in Montenegro.
This is a great turnaround, from a country where the last official hunting quota was more than the actual number of Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca present in the country…
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development issued the ban as a result of constant media pressure exposing detailed information about the confiscation of birds at Montenegrin borders.
One high-profile case that tipped the balance detailed an Italian hunter who had 20 Rock Partridge (classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List) and a Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola confiscated at Customs in the Port of Bar in December 2015.
Montenegrin Law requires hunting organisations to issue permits to foreign ‘hunting tourists’ allowing them to hunt in specific areas. However, the permit does not allow the transfer of killed animals across the border; this requires a special permit.
Regulation of issuing these permits in Montenegro is weak: interagency cooperation is inefficient and political will to control the hunters, a powerful voting lobby, is lacking. As a result, foreigners do not have the necessary permits to hunt in Montenegro, nor do they comply with regulations for border crossing, and illegal killing occurs frequently.
In February 2015 for example an Italian hunter tried to smuggle 52 Eurasian Woodcocks (a favourite for foreign hunters) across the border: the dead birds were confiscated but no one was punished – so CZIP reacted.
Were it not for their hard work and persistence that led to this latest success, CZIP staff could be banging their heads against the wall – even if birds were hunted lawfully. Prior to the moratorium, Rock Partridge could legally be hunted in Montenegro between October and December. Although the country itself provides an ideal habitat for the species, the species’ population is small (estimated at only 1200 pairs nationally) and frequent summer fires have caused significant habitat degradation. Yet despite this, official hunting quotas allowed for the killing of more individuals than actually existed.
“It’s crazy,” says Darko Saveljic, Ornithologist, CZIP. “Hunting groups submit reports that exaggerate numbers so they can raise the quotas. Providing accurate data is just one other reason why our team has to work so hard!”
In 2015, CZIP filed charges against tourist agencies offering hunting trips in Montenegro, focusing particularly on Ulcinj Salina Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) – a wetland of great importance internationally for migratory waterbirds and in the process of being designated a protected area. Despite strong evidence, this and other criminal charges were rejected by the prosecution and never reached the courts.
But this latest ban success is one that is slowly becoming a trend in Montenegro.
Media attention and negative comments about hunters on social networking sites are helping change public opinion on illegal killing, even in a country with such longstanding hunting traditions.
Years of filing criminal charges, publishing press releases, holding round-table discussions with hunters and collaboration with the Customs Authority eventually are paying off and are backed by ministerial decisions. CZIP’s request that offenders should face the due processes and consequences of the law was answered after only two days, when the Minister fined the Hunting Association of Piva €1400.
This was a historical first for Montenegro – despite being constitutionally proclaimed as an ‘Ecological State’ over twenty years ago. Moreover, the president of the Association was personally fined for negligence in regulating its activities.
Some hunting associations are already on board with CZIP though. In the coastal area of Tivat, one group have self-banned the hunting of Rock Partridge in response to friendly discussions with the CZIP team, supported by the presentation of scientific evidence showing the hunters what was required for the species to recover.
Working together to break the hunting and smuggling chain
For some years, the Customs Unit at Port of Bar has shown interest in preventing the illegal trade of animals. To date, they have confiscated hundreds of smuggled birds from offenders but without the follow-up success of punishment.
CZIP organised training to help the customs police recognise species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – thus forging strong relationship.
“The Customs Unit at the Port of Bar is the only official authority fighting the smuggling of killed birds in Montenegro,” said Darko. “Without their efforts, CZIP’s achievements in this area would be much diminished.”
Continuing the fight against illegal hunting in Montenegro
CZIP’s fight for nature conservation in Montenegro does not stop here: they have proposed amendments to the law that concerns hunting seasons. With scientifically-established evidence on threatened and overhunted species, shorter hunting seasons are recommended for a number of species: Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca; Common coot Fulica atra; Common Pochard Aythya ferina; and Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur.
Only ten days after the controversial case that led to this moratorium, another confiscation happened when an Italian hunter tried to smuggle 12 Eurasian Woodcocks. Naturally, CZIP made this information public: now all eyes are on the Ministry’s reaction and resolve to combat illegal killing and to force hunting associations to act according to the law.
“Hopefully, through the joint efforts of the Customs Authority and the Ministry, we will reduce the practice of illegal killing by our neighbours from across the sea,” said Darko.
CZIP is also working to promote Ulcinj Salina as an ecotourism destination and recently saved it from developers.