Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Shorebird Massacre

I recently received an email that I found quite disturbing. It was about the massacre of thousands of shorebirds a year on the Caribbean island of Barbados. While protected in their breeding and wintering grounds, these shorebirds are being shot by the thousands during their already difficult migration. Barbados is a small country of only 282,000 people and only a fraction of their population is involved in these hunts. The hunters are the rich, upper class whites who make up less than four percent of the total population. While it has been known for many years that these hunters are destroying shorebird populations, as is evidenced by their collection of the last known Eskimo Curlew specimen, the wildfowlers as they are known are such a powerful lobbying group that the government of Barbados has been able to do nothing to stop the killing.

Other then the obvious issues with the decimation of shorebird populations, you may be wondering why this is important to me here in the Midwest. The reality is that this hunting can and most likely will lead to a noticeable drop in the total number of individual shorebirds coming through the United States. One species that is of particular concern is the American Golden-Plover. This species has been declining in the United States and we may continue to see populations or this and many other shorebirds fall if the killing is not stopped or at least regulated.

While this is already a sad story for both shorebirds and birders alike, it gets even worse for these birds. Since there are few regulations for hunting in Barbados and those regulations are rarely enforced, the killing is allowed to go on at a staggering rate. It is considered an honor to shoot all of the birds in the swamp and individual daily bad counts regularly reach 1,000 birds. The birds are allegedly tricked into landing in the swamps by the use of loud recordings of their calls and the use of caged birds. Then they are shot as they forage in the swamps. By being shot while in the water, it gives the birds little chance to escape and survive.

The wildfowlers have a huge list of excuses as to why they should be allowed to continue this horrifying “tradition.” While I understand that the hunting of shorebirds has been a long lived tradition on the island for over 400 years, it is inexcusable to continue destroying shorebird populations just for the sake of tradition. They have also argued that the money that they spend on hunting in the “shooting swamps” allows many birds to use the areas in the 8 months that they are not hunting. While this may seem like a fair argument, they are overlooking the fact that they are hunting at the only time that the shorebirds are present. While other birds may benefit from the swamps in the “off season,” this does not justify the shooting of 45,000 shorebirds in the other 4 months.

Something must be done to stop these hunts and it starts with the governments of the United States and Canada pressuring the Barbadian government to first enforce the few laws regarding hunting that are on the books and then by signing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and enforcing the laws that it stipulates.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Look for my follow on twitter and help me make some noise about the Barbados situation!