Lebanon is waging a war on birds, seagulls to be specific, in hopes of decreasing the threat of bird strikes in and around Beirut International Airport – the country’s only port of aerial entry for passengers.
Over the weekend, dozens of hunters were spotted shooting dead birds at a close distance from the airport’s runways and “within the sights of security forces.”
The birds, which have reportedly increased in number, are believed to be attracted to rotting trash at the nearby Costa Brava dump and untreated waste water pouring into the adjacent Ghadir River estuary.
The unannounced “hunting spree” caused widespread outrage and drew the condemnation of environmentalists.
Initially, no official side claimed direct responsibility for the decision to dispatch hunters to an area which is normally off limits. Officials dodged the responsibilities of their public office, namely newly appointed Environment Minister Tarek al-Khatib who even asked citizens to come up with better alternatives.
Hunters, who were interviewed by local media said they were just offering a public service, denying they had been paid by any governmental body. They also claimed to be targeting gulls, and not any other species.
“We were only provided with the cartridges,” one man said. “Only seagulls are being targeted since they threaten civil aviation safety,” another one added.
Environmental activists have a different story. According to the Lebanese Bird Conservation Coalition, several other species were killed in the spree too. They include the common redshank, the common sandpiper, the collared dove, the laughing dove, the turtle dove, the house sparrow, the little egret, the great cormorant, and the sandwich tern.
Activists also claim hunters were being transported to and from the site by Middle East Airline buses, Lebanon’s flag carrier chaired by Mohammad al-Hout.
Hout, who later appeared in a video posted by MEA on Facebook, justified the shooting, saying: “It was a tough choice to make … We had to choose between the seagulls and our birds (MEA planes). Of course, our planes and the safety of our runways come first …”
But, activists are not convinced. Paul Abi Rached, the president of the Lebanon Eco Movement spoke to Newsroom Nomad. He condemned Hout’s reasoning, saying authorities should have resorted to long-term solutions like cleaning the seashores, shutting down the Costa Brava landfill, activating recycling plants, and treating the Ghadir estuary.
“The birds will return after a while, and shooting them just won’t do … To solve this problem they must shut down the Costa Brava landfill and fix the Ghadir River problem from the root. Anything short of that just won’t do.
“By shooting birds, Lebanon is now breaching the conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), of which it is a signatory. It is both criminal and illegal, but above all it shows how incompetent this government is … The landfill was set up to last for 4 years, and it seems they [authorities] want to keep things as they are so as to pave the way for incinerators, which will be presented to the public as the only solution to the waste problem.
“… I have reason to believe that they will be resorting to this immoral and illegal tactic [bird shooting] as a means to cover up their shortcomings and keep the landfill in use … This was the new government’s first test, they promised to protect the environment and they have gravely failed.”
The Costa Brava landfill is one of two others that were built to solve Lebanon’s garbage crisis. Environmentalists have repeatedly objected to its construction, and warned that it would attract birds and other animals, as well as wreak havoc on both man and nature.