Last modified: 30 March 2009
Sociable lapwing on their central Asian breeding grounds are becoming an increasingly scarce sight.
Image: Maxim Koshkin - ACBK
Hunting in the Middle East has been recognised as a major threat to one of the world’s most endangered birds.
A joint survey mission by RSPB and the Syrian Society for Conservation of Wildlife SSCW has uncovered the new dangers in Syria to the sociable lapwing.
Alarming news suggests that critically endangered sociable lapwings have been shot by hunters in north-east Syria, one of the bird's most important migration sites.
Conservationists from Europe, Africa and Asia are attending a sociable lapwing summit in Kazakhstan and the newly identified threat will be top of the delegates' agendas.
The RSPB's Rob Sheldon leads a research team studying the sociable lapwing, funded by the UK Government's Darwin Initiative. Speaking from the summit he said: “Thankfully, Syrian Government rangers moved rapidly to the area and were able to negotiate with the hunters and avert a worse disaster, which could have affected the hundreds of sociable lapwings passing through Syria on migration.”
"We are heartened by the quick response of the Syrian authorities and by the evidence that hunters are willing to spare them, if they are made aware of the bird's plight."
The birds migrate through the region between their north-east African wintering areas and the bird's only nesting site - the Central Asian steppe grasslands, principally Kazakhstan. The bird's wintering grounds have only been confirmed recently when an RSPB satellite-tracking project tracked the movements of birds from Kazakhstan to Sudan.
The sociable lapwing - an attractive type of wading bird is one of the 190 of the world's critically endangered birds and thus faces an extremely high risk of extinction. The species is thought to have declined by 90 per cent since the 1990s; the world population of this bird is now thought to number no more than 11,200 individuals.
Rob Sheldon added: "We have been striving to protect and understand more about this rapidly-declining species. These birds are so precious we can ill afford to lose a single individual. The sociable lapwing faces many threats and clearly hunting is emerging as a key danger. We are however heartened by the quick response of the Syrian authorities and by the evidence that hunters are willing to spare them, if they are made aware of the bird's plight."
Osama Al Nouri, general secretary of SSCW said: "We will be striving to protect these birds now that we have more understanding of the threats they face. This understanding will allow us to draw up protection plans for the next year."
A team of RSPB bird surveyors have been in Syria looking for sociable lapwings on migration. Working with members of the Syrian Society for Conservation of Wildlife SSCW, the team joined forces with the government (the General Commission for Al Badia Management and Development) who reacted immediately to the problem and dispatched rangers to monitor the sociable lapwings in the area and stop hunting.
The RSPB's Martin Scott is a member of the Society's survey team which has been based in Syria. He said: "It seems clear that hunting could be a major threat to the species. During our visit we've met with government officials, police chiefs and religious leaders and everyone we've spoken recognises the plight of this bird and is keen to take action to prevent further deaths."
The sociable lapwing is the second most threatened bird to occur in Syria, after the critically endangered Bald Ibis.
"It seems clear that hunting could be a major threat to the species"
ACBK is the RSPB's BirdLife International partner in Kazakhstan; the group is hosting the Sociable Lapwing workshop. Vitaliy Gromov, ACBK's director, said: "The Sociable Lapwing is the most threatened bird to occur in Kazakhstan, but its conservation relies on international co-operation. We are delighted to welcome delegates from Europe, Africa and Asia who all have a key stake in protecting this delightful bird."
The UK Government's Darwin Initiative has part-funded two sociable lapwing projects. The first a three-year project ending next month, funded research establishing reasons for the bird's decline, while the second which starts next month will start to seek to understand more about the bird's migration and wintering sites.
The RSPB and Swarovski Optik are the species champions for the sociable lapwing, under BirdLife International's Preventing Extinctions Programme.
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