Endangered species conservation in Cambodia (Siamese crocodiles), Georgia (raptors), Guinea and South Sudan (forest elephants)

Project location: VARIOUS COUNTRIES
Project start date: May 2017 - Project end date: April 2018
Project number: 2017-017
Beneficiary: Fauna & Flora International

Addressing the Capture and Illegal Trade of Raptors in Georgia

Twice a year, 1 million raptors migrate through the ‘Batumi Bottleneck’, one of the top four raptor migration locations in the world, but poaching and the unsustainable trade in raptors is an emerging threat here. Although killing raptors is illegal in Georgia, shooting has recently become a popular pastime for local men. The government has no capacity for law enforcement, and on an average day during the autumn migration, hundreds of shots can be detected from a single spot in the Batumi Bottleneck.

The Batumi Bottleneck is a four-kilometre wide stretch of land near the Georgian city of Batumi, and a geographically critical location for migratory raptors, including some of the world’s most endangered species such as Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis, Status: Endangered), Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus, Near Threatened), Greater Spotted Eagle (Clanga clanga, Vulnerable) and Levant Sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipes, Least Concern). The migration includes a large proportion of the total populations of some species – most notably an estimated 95% of the global European Honey-Buzzard (Pernis apivorus, Least Concern) population. As a key migration passageway, the Batumi Bottleneck has global conservation relevance.

In Georgia, raptors are popular for falconry, and although they have historically been kept temporarily and in low numbers by local falconers, emerging trade is now generating a far wider impact than the traditional falconry that has been practiced since the Middle Ages. The most sought after raptors can be worth USD10,000 and it is estimated around 5,000 birds of prey are currently being smuggled across the borders of Georgia each year. There is a significant risk of this number increasing; a quarter of falconers interviewed in a 2014 FFI survey admitted they had recently begun trapping birds to sell illegally, to brokers in Turkey and beyond.

The long term project goal is for local stakeholders effectively to safeguard the protection of raptors migrating through Batumi Bottleneck. The objectives are (1) Public awareness raising, and (2) Enhancing law enforcement.

(1) Public awareness raising: Through our work with local partners in the area, FFI has come to understand that local awareness of conservation issues is minimal, and that local poachers and traders have no understanding of the crucial impact of their activities on raptors species. Therefore, FFI wants to invest in significant public awareness campaigns to create a major mentality shift in the region.

(2) Enhancing law enforcement: Hunting of raptors is illegal and the Georgian government is aware of the issues in the Batumi Bottleneck and is willing to address these. However, the government lacks capacity, knowledge and skills to address poaching and illegal trade and is working with FFI to build its capacity and approaches to address the most pressing conservation issues.

This project received a grant from the Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation. Its activities include:

1.1 Working with local falconers to adopt best practices and advocate against poaching, killing and trading of raptors. This entails holding workshops and consultations, developing a code of conduct, and supporting falconers in organising falconry events.
1.2 Exploring opportunities to link local enterprises to falconry associations to secure income for responsible falconry activities.
1.3 Border posts, brochures, flyers, and information signs to raise public awareness on conservation.
1.4 Showing continued presence at local falconer events and support organisation of events in collaboration with falconers. Active engagement through talks, brochures, birding excursions, and public discussions.
1.5 Facilitate information sharing between Turkish and Georgian falconers and conservationists. The Turks have most successfully campaigned for the abandoning of killing of raptors over the past three decades.

2.1 Training customs officers, environmental police, and supervision departments of the government in CITES species identification, CITES regulations, smuggling methods. Some Georgian conservationists will be trained to repeat this same training at lower cost in the future, and a training on detection and interception will be integrated in the formal recruitment process of new officers.
2.2 Preparation of identification materials, posters, and signs that educate customs officers on illegal wildlife trade.
2.3 Assisting the Georgian authorities to increase physical presence in the Batumi region in order to enforce the laws that protect raptors from illegal hunting and trade. FFI and partners will join the authorities on various trips to exchange knowledge on the effective use of their limited capacity.

FFI will work with communities in Georgia to educate them on the conservation importance of raptors, and with law enforcement officials to help ensure the laws that protect raptors from illegal trade are adhered to. This will lead to creating a mentality shift in the region via awareness campaigns, contributing to raptor conservation.
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