“Lebanon is the second largest natural migration route for birds traveling from Europe to Asia during September, November and December,” said Pierre Jalkh, head of the Lebanese Association for Shooting and Hunting.
“The most transient birds that do not settle in Lebanon are common ringed plovers and flying quails, in addition to sparrowhawks, which cross Lebanese airspace in September and are internationally protected, making it illegal to hunt this species,” he said.
The hunting season causes so much chaos, which the Ministry of Environment, municipalities and internal security forces try to control and organize every year.
Jalkh could not provide the exact number of hunters, but pointed out that “15,000 hunters underwent assessments at certified hunting clubs in Lebanon, and those are the only ones of which we know.”
Hunters boast about their achievements by posting their shocking photos on social media platforms, which depict hundreds of hunted birds spread on their cars’ fronts and roofs. These scenes have angered environmental activists and driven them to find ways to raise awareness about bird protection.
Rawad Rizk, project manager of “LIVE Lebanon,” a UN Development Programme project, does not have a close estimate of the number of hunters because thousands practice this hobby without a license, but he estimated that there were between 100,000 and 600,000 hunters.
“The idea of involving Lebanese expatriates in national and rural development in Lebanon was launched in 2009, and the LIVE Lebanon project was the link for securing funds from Lebanese communities abroad and from the private sector in Lebanon,” he said.
“The ‘Collecting Cartridges’ project is part of the Youth Volunteer Programme and was an idea proposed through one of the program’s websites, so we launched it this year under the auspices of the National Commission for Lebanese Women and in cooperation with LIVE Lebanon,” he said. “One hundred young men and women volunteered for this project.
“We took our mission in a mountainous area in the Keserwan district starting Sunday morning. We waited until all hunters were done and left the fields before we spent around five hours — perhaps less — collecting a quarter of a million cartridges in an area not larger than a football pitch,” he said.
Volunteers are preparing for a similar campaign for collecting cartridges in the Beqaa, where hunters practice their hobby in different open and vast areas.
People who pass by the hunting areas in Beqaa, especially in the town of Chtaura, can track the activity of shops selling hunting weapons and ammunition even to those who do not have a license for carrying arms.
Jalkh explained that “hunting is governed by rules and regulations, the first of which is that a hunter must be at least 18, must obtain a license for carrying weapons and another for hunting, and must have health insurance.
“Certified hunting clubs train hunters on using rifles and bullets,” he added, pointing out that “accidents caused by hunting mistakes, although declining in number, still exist and mostly include hunters hurting themselves or others because they do not know how to use rifles.”
He also stressed that “hunters without licenses are subject to legal prosecution.”
“The law requires hunters to be at least 500 meters away from any residence,” he added. “The law also states that a hunter is only allowed to hunt a maximum of 50 common ringed plovers and 25 flying quails, while hunting sparrowhawks is illegal because the species is internationally fully protected.”
When the volunteers embarked on collecting empty cartridges, some hunters joined in while others left the area, leaving behind thousands of cartridges and dead sparrowhawks dumped on the ground.
Rizk described the mission as a tough one, “especially because thousands of the cartridges were planted in the ground, which will pollute the soil and underground water.
“We are currently working with mechanical engineering students at several Lebanese universities to devise a machine that separates plastic from copper and iron, which are the materials of which bullet cartridges are made, in order to recycle the plastic,” he said. “And we will fund the best project submitted to us.”
Dozens of large bags filled with collected cartridges will be stored in a safe warehouse provided by the Federation of Keserwan Municipalities in Jounieh.
According to Rizk, the “Cartridge Collecting” project will continue for years to come, and its cost won’t be specified. “The more money we collect, the better we work until we reach a point where we force hunters to clean the areas of their cartridges, especially since hunters can reuse a cartridge by refilling it with gunpowder and small iron balls, which we highly encourage,” he said.
Around a month ago, the “LIVE Lebanon” project carried out a campaign for cleaning the sea. One hundred and seventeen Lebanese, American and Venezuelan divers volunteered to lift a ton of waste from an area stretching between the Tabarja beach to Enfeh in the north. It included plastic waste, glass, tires and bags.
Moreover, a project with the slogan “Forget the Hole” managed last year to fill 6,000 holes in the ground in 92 Lebanese districts within eight months. “There are still many holes in Lebanon waiting for funding to be filled,” Rizk said.