Thursday, January 9, 2014

Millions of winged creatures are being slaughtered for food : Shocking Photos

Each year, millions of songbirds are killed for food, for profit or just for the joy of shooting something, as they move from their winter grounds in Africa to their summer breeding territories in Europe.
In Egypt, hundreds of miles of nets cover the entire coastline, catching almost every bird that makes its way to shore from across the Mediterranean Sea. In Albania, hunters set up dozens of hunting blinds inside wildlife refuges while officials turn a blind eye.

An inviting perch turns out to be a deadly trap for two warblers. With feet and wings stuck to “lime sticks,” the songbirds cannot escape. Poachers placed these decoy shrubs along a highway near the Mediterranean.

In Cyprus, trees are outfitted with glue-covered lime sticks that catch birds like flies on flypaper as they attempt to land, breaking wings as the birds struggle to free themselves. The problem is widespread and growing

as new methods and technology increase the deadly toll of the annualslaughter.
Reliable numbers don’t exist for the overall count of birds taken by poachers each year. Novelist Jonathan Franzen, on assignment for National Geographic, witnessed the migration throughout southern Europe and Egypt and estimated that a single Egyptian farmer might catch and kill more than 5,500 birds during a 30-day period in the height of migration. That number would include hundreds of golden orioles, similar numbers of hoopoes and turtledoves and many dozens of different species of smaller birds.

Franzen estimates that mist nets — nets made of line so thin as to be almost invisible to birds — catch as many 100,000 quail from a total breeding population estimated at two to three million pairs (and falling sharply year after year). Though the methods differ from region to region, the indiscriminate hunting of migratory songbirds is prevalent throughout Europe and the Middle East and results in the loss of millions of birds annually from nearly every species that migrates through the area. Franzen cites examples from France, Spain, Italy, Albania, Cyprus and Egypt.

A whitethroat, en route to winter grounds in Africa, is caught on a lime stick. Image from the July 2013 issue of National Geographic magazine.

David Guttenfelder is best-known for his war photography from places like Rwanda, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. While on special assignment for National Geographic, he took on a more delicate topic: migrating songbirds.

What he soon discovered is that the widespread slaughter of songbirds for food and amusement conjures up the same emotions as covering war-torn territories. Across the Mediterranean, millions of these winged creatures are being slaughtered for food, for profit, and for sport.
Guttenfelder joins the show to talk about his latest project. 

After crossing the Mediterranean on their way south, golden orioles must brave more than a thousand miles of Saharan desert. The Al Maghrah oasis is a welcome spot of green in this sea of sand. But hunters lie in wait for the weary birds.

This poacher’s tray of frozen songbirds, most only inches long, was confiscated by forest rangers. Illegally hunted birds are secretly served as a delicacy in restaurants and homes.

 A young Bedouin in the Western Desert shows off a sample from his morning haul: a golden oriole rich in fat after a summer in Europe. Bedouin tend to eat what they catch. Plucked and fried, this two-ounce bird will provide two bites of meat.

 At the market in El Daba, dead songbirds are counted. Merchants sell both live and dead birds at specialty markets in towns along the coast. When customers purchase them live, the merchants kill and pluck them on the spot.

 Large trees covered in nets can snare thousands of songbirds along the coast during migration. Some of those birds—roasted and stuffed with rice—end up as the main course of a midday meal.

 Two forest rangers, members of a special police unit devoted to poaching, question a couple after they saw the man, at far right, carrying a shotgun near an illegal net in Brescia. Last fall the police caught 43 people in one antipoaching operation.

 Confiscated from a poacher in Brescia, this robin will be released to fly away into an uncertain world, where habitat is threatened and predators and poachers await. The survival of songbirds depends in part upon eliminating illegal hunting.

Nets drape the first trees that migrating birds see after crossing the Mediterranean. The birds fly into the open end of the net and can’t find their way out, which makes it easy for this boy to catch a chiffchaff.

 A tethered raptor serves as a trapper’s spotter. When the bird spies a falcon, it looks up. This alerts the trapper to release a small bird wearing a snare, trapping the falcon if it comes in for the kill. Falconers pay up to $35,000 for a live falcon.

A metal snap trap operates like a mousetrap, with berries as the bait. Catching birds this way is illegal, but poachers still use the traps in the northern woods. This European robin, fatally pinned by its neck and foot, was discovered by rangers on patrol.

 A dead garganey floats among lifelike decoys that lured it within shooting range. Few citizens had guns until the national armories were ransacked in 1997. Now Albania is awash in firearms, and the coast has become lethal for migrating birds.

 Volunteers with the Committee Against Bird Slaughter sneak into a grove where a farmer has just placed lime sticks to snag unwary birds. The organization dismantled nearly 9,000 traps on Cyprus last year.

A whitethroat, en route to winter grounds in Africa, is caught on a lime stick.

After prying this blackcap from a lime stick, the songbird’s rescuer uses his saliva to remove sticky plum tree sap from its feathers and feet so that it can safely fly when released.

Interview Highlights:  

On how came to focus on birds as a subject:
"To be honest, I wasn't a bird watcher. I've become one now. It's not my background. I've spent most of my career covering human conflict. I came to this story through National Geographic for the opportunity to do something a little bit different and experience a completely different kind of conflict."

On the conflict in the world of birds:
"We were focusing specifically on what's going on around the Mediterranean. There are roughly 5 billion birds that migrate across twice a year. The situation is shocking to me. There were close to a billion birds that are killed during this passage. Guns, nets, traps, snares and these really horrifying sticky lime sticks that are put in trees and trap birds when they land on their way across the sea."

On the birds being targeted and why:
"It's the broadest number of species you can imagine, from the tiniest songbirds, warblers, to raptors, to highly threatened endangered waders. People kill them primarily for food. It's a tradition in much of the Mediterranean. People kill them for sport, people kill them because it's very, very profitable. Even the tiniest of songbirds in Europe are sold as delicacies for a very high price, as much as $10 for one bird on a plate."

On what he felt when he took photos of trapped birds:
"My first experience in seeing many of these species for the first time in real life was to see them hanging and struggling and desperately trying to release themselves from this glue. Breaking their wings, ripping off their flight feathers, it's a really shocking thing to see. I was working with environmental activists who were trying to do a number of things, and the most immediate thing they were doing was pulling them down and releasing them."

On activists putting birds in their mouth to wash sap off:
"When they pull the birds down, if the birds have not already injured themselves, or haven't been hanging too long and can be set free, they have to first be cleaned. It turns out the best way to do that is to actually put the bird in your mouth. The tree sap is sweet and dissolves on your tongue, so the activists would put the feet of the birds into their mouth and suck on them. I did this too, a couple of times while I was photographing them, mainly, but I did it as well when there were just too many birds and [the activists] needed help. It's a life-affirming thing to do, to help a bird in that way."

On the irony of getting these beautiful shots while the birds are trapped:
"That's true. I'm looking at these birds and I'm studying them very closely. I can see all the colors, I can touch them, it's an unusual look at a bird. But then you stop and remind yourself that birds aren't supposed to be like this. The reason that we love birds is that they're free and the glimpses that we have of them are fleeting."

Oh his colleagues' reaction to this bird photographing project:
"I've developed a certain identity as 'that guy,' so my friends, who were all in Syria the year I was in Albania and Egypt photographing songbirds, were saying, 'Hey, what's going on? You're a bird photographer now.' Some of my hardened war photographers gave me a hard time, but my answer to them was that I had discovered that this was a war of its own kind."

On how his experience with human conflict helped him photograph the birds:
"I was asked to do this because of my background. I went to places where I had to befriend men with weapons in the middle of the desert. In Cyprus, the activists who were out there trying to dismantle the limesticks and the mist nets and confronting the poachers, some of them were attacked. Some were grievously injured. I have to say, over many years of working and covering war, covering people doing terrible things to one another, I think you develop a thick skin. You can become a bit cynical, and surprisingly, me going out in the field, taking a look at little birds, I think it made me take my thick skin off for a moment."

Photograph by David Guttenfelder

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