Thursday, 26 December 2013

Raptor's Story

Being an animal lover and a vegetarian I am obviously opposed to any kind of hunting.  In particular I see no appeal in hunting for 'sport' although of course this is a widespread activity.  Certain kind of hunting are clearly wrong, for example trophy hunting for wild African animals (e.g. rhinos, elephants, big cats) is widely viewed as unacceptable, particularly as many of these animals are endangered.

Looking a bit closer to home, the opinions towards hunting of game birds are less firm.  After all, the species shot are common (e.g. grouse, pheasant) and often bred for this exact purpose.  This sport can be an important input into the economy, for instance on some estates people pay £175 for every 2 birds they shoot, as well as being ingrained into some societies.

Hen Harrier
However, a dangerous indirect threat arising from this sport in the persecution of raptors that occasionally prey on game birds.  Despite the majority of these raptors being legally protected from persecution, many a still poisoned and shot and this is a serious problem for species that are already suffering low population numbers.  Hen harriers are an example of one of these species as only 1% of their naturally occurring numbers are successfully breeding in grouse moors.  This species is one of the most threatened raptors in the UK with only 570 breeding pairs left.  Another critically endangered species suffering is the Golden eagle as only this month (19th December) another satellite-tagged bird was found poisoned on a moor that is intensively managed for grouse shooting.

Golden Eagle
Buzzards are a conservation success story in the UK as despite historical declines, they are now this country's most common raptor, with a population of 31,000 to 44, 000 breeding pairs.  They are still a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 2001 in order to maintain and perhaps even improve these numbers.  However, a shocking development occurred in May when Natural England issued its first license to destroy buzzard nests and move adults after requests from a pheasant shooting estate.  To make matters worse, research has indicated that buzzards play a minor role in pheasant losses as they only occasionally take young pheasants from breeding pens.  There are also alternative measures available to protect pheasant numbers such as providing more cover for young pheasants in release pens, visual deterrents to discourage buzzards and providing alternative food sources

I believe that this persecution of raptors is equally as unacceptable as ivory poaching of elephants and it needs the same level of attention to prevent further losses to our native birds.  All animals populations on this earth are precariously balanced due to their daily battles with human actions.  We cannot afford to abandon any of them, even if they are seemingly recovering as in the case of the buzzards, if we want to keep them in our world.


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