Bird flu fears allow migratory birds safe passage



RIYADH: MD Rasooldeen

Published — Sunday 22 December 2013

Last update 5 February 2014 5:18 am

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With the onset of winter, thousands of migratory birds are transiting through the Kingdom on their way to warmer climes in Africa.
Traditionally, migratory birds are hunted in the Kingdom in the winter. But local authorities have not lifted a ban on bird hunting imposed some years ago for fear of the spread of bird flu, an official from the Saudi Wildlife Authority (SWA) told Arab News on Saturday.
The Ministry of Interior, in cooperation with the SWA, regulates the hunting season. “The year is divided into eight hunting seasons. Six of them are devoted to birds and two to dub (desert lizards) and rabbits,” he said.
The official said that although the Kingdom is free of the bird flu virus, the government does not want to risk its recurrence through the hunting of migratory birds. “It is simply a preventive measure as the world is not 100 percent free of the virus,” he added.
There are chances that the birds could carry the virus and spread the disease in the temporary nests they make. “Hunting these infected birds would only make matters worse,” official sources said, pointing out that the ban would curb the spread of bird flu.
The migratory birds come mostly from East and North Europe and the Levant. They include houbara bustards, passerines, flamingos, pelicans, cranes and turtle doves.
Migratory birds halt temporarily mainly in Al-Hair in Riyadh, Al-Asfar Lake, Jubail Marine Protected Area, Domat Al-Jandal in Al-Jouf, Farasan Islands and Wadi Aljizan.
The SWA has deployed several teams in these areas to monitor any abnormal movements of these birds.
Although the hunting of birds is prohibited, the authorities will allow the hunting of desert lizards and rabbits,” sources said.
The rabbit hunting season began last week for a period of 40 days. The important clause in the hunting regulations is that the hunters can only hunt a particular species during a single season, he said, adding that the current season is devoted to hunting rabbits only.
The hunters are not permitted to use firearms but can lay traps to track the rabbits. They are also allowed to hunt with hounds and falcons. However, they cannot hunt in the 16 protected areas in the Kingdom, the Empty Quarter and in places close to urban settlements. In view of the Kingdom’s conservation plans, hunters have been warned not to kill endangered species such as the oryx, gazelle, ibex, the Arabian leopard and the ostrich. The Kingdom hosts several thousand migratory birds, which begin their return journey in the spring for their summer homes.

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