Friday, February 20, 1998

LebEnv # 48


by Fareed Abou-Haidar

The destructive effect of Lebanon's hunters was felt far beyond the country's boundaries. Unfortunately (!), Lebanon lies in a very strategic position along a major flyway for birds migrating between Europe and northern Asia, and Africa. Because of the open expanses of the Mediterranean sea, birds flying south from Europe veer east and follow land so that they can rest on the way, taking them over the eastern Mediterranean countries, including Lebanon. In the early or mid-1970s, in letters sent to Lebanese newspapers, the Germans complained that the very same storks that were welcomed in their barns and on their chimneys and rooftops were being decimated by hunters during the birds' journey between Europe and Africa, where they spent the winters.

Lebanon's hunters had the dishonor of being featured in the magazine of the National Audubon Society in January 1986. Some eye-popping tidbits from that article: One man (no doubt with abnormally high levels of testosterone, a good aim, and money to waste) has shot over 50,000 raptors (birds of prey). Twelve- year-olds shoot songbird with machine guns. Fifteen to 20 million migratory birds are shot down annually. That's 'only' forty birds per year by each of half a million hunters. (Many hunters kill that many birds in a DAY.) The article explains the unraveling of the ecology resulting from the elimination of birds: an increase in harmful insects destroying the cedars of Lebanon and defoliating other forests; erosion from slopes denuded of their trees; a resulting loss of perennial streams; a loss of agriculture; a marine ecosystem smothered by eroded soil and the need to import fish from Syria and Turkey to meet the country's needs. The Friends of Nature's efforts to stop hunting and educate people are prominently featured.

That was then, the bad old days of ineffective prewar and wartime governments, many of whose members themselves hunted large numbers of birds in well-publicized events; the bad days of the Lebanese war when hunters took the deaths of people as a reason to justify killing birds and other animals.

This is now. For over three years, hunting has been totally banned in Lebanon. The ban came after a prolonged struggle between the government on one side, and the hunters, gun shops (especially in Shtoura), and gunshot manufacturers on the other side. It finally took effect in January 1995. By August 1995, when I visited Lebanon, the difference was already noticeable in both the peaceful countryside and the chattering of large numbers of birds. Despite violations, the ban has been effective, and was recently extended another year, till the end of 1998.

Lebanon is too small to accommodate the vast number of Lebanese hunters. Let's hope that after four years, many people will have given up hunting (just like giving up that other common Lebanese vice, cigarette smoking) and that an emerging generation will have learned to grow up without hunting. Educational campaigns will no doubt further reduce the number of hunters, both existing and potential.

After the ban is lifted, hunting will be strictly regulated. I believe it should remain banned in practically all of the western slope of Mount Lebanon because of the high population density. The remaining open spaces of Lebanon are too valuable a resource that can be better put to use for hiking and other outdoor recreation, and would make excellent nature and wildlife preserves. This is the case of the new 500-square-kilometer preserve in the Shouf, where hunting will remain forbidden even after the ban is lifted elsewhere. Wildlife has already made a comeback, as mentioned in a recent LebEnv article.

Where hunting is allowed, it should follow the model of the U.S. or some other countries. In the U.S., hunters are often allied with environmentalists in battles over habitat destruction. They gladly pay taxes on guns, ammunition and other equipment. The money is used to protect wildlife habitat from development, and helps in monitoring wildlife to make sure it is not over- hunted. In the crowded eastern U.S., some states actually have public hunting areas set aside. In Lebanon's case, the money can be used to raise certain game birds (doves, pheasants, quail etc.) that can be continually released into the countryside and hunted without depleting their numbers; this was already being done before the war. Other birds, such as storks, eagles and songbirds would remain off-limits.

Ecotourism is a new kind of industry that has been on the rise in recent decades. Whereas traditional tourism relies on well-publicized historic sites and 'trademark' views, ecotourism involves immersing oneself in the natural features of the country being visited. People pay thousands of dollars to visit the jungles of Costa Rica. Many people 'collect' birds by identifying them and putting them on their 'life list.' No doubt Lebanon has a large number of species of birds that would be hard to find elsewhere in such a small area. This makes the country a potential destination for a new kind of tourist. Bird watchers tend to be educated and with high incomes; besides watching birds and hiking in the mountains, they will be interested in learning about the culture of the country. By being the target of a camera of pair of binoculars, a single bird will 'benefit' the economy several times over in comparison to shooting it with a gun. A new form of recycling!

In two weeks, I will respond to the many comments that have been (or will be) posted on SCL or e-mailed to me on this subject.

Fareed Abou-Haidar

Fareed's Home Page (with articles and photos on the environment in Lebanon) at

(See other photographs from some of the areas mentioned above.)



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