Monitoring of illegal shooting

The 2015 Raptor Shooting Monitoring Project aimed to provide a better estimation of the scale and trends of illegal shooting of migratory raptors on the long term in a strictly non-confrontational manner. The results of the monitoring will be used as a first step towards the understanding of the effect of the shooting on the migratory populations, as well as for finding mutually acceptable ways to solve this conservation conflict with the help of awareness-raising and outreach campaigns.

The project had two objectives for the period of 20 August-7 October 2015:

  1. Running standardised daily monitoring of the hunting and trapping activity behind Station 1 in Sakhalvasho;
  2. Conducting two body counts in six villages in order to obtain a better estimate on the frequencies of the species shot.

Adult male honey buzzard remains

Methods

The systematic monitoring consisted of observing the shooting and trapping activity in Sakhalvasho, behind Station 1. We tallied the number shots heard and hunters/trappers seen, recorded the number and species of the killed/injured/trapped birds, and collected data on the hitting and retrieval rate.
Besides the monitoring in Sakhalvasho, BRC volunteers tally the number of shots and records the injured and killed birds seen from BRC counting platform ‘Station 2’ in Shuamta; this data is also used in the present report.
We conducted a body count (identification and counting of wings and feathers left by hunters) twice during the season in Sakhalvasho and in five other shooting hot spots: Zeda Sameba, Kvirike, Dagva-Zeda Achkva and Akhalsopeli-Avgia, see on the map below:

 

Body count locationsLimitations

One limitation of the monitoring lies in the nature of the shooting, which happens in a highly unpredictable, opportunistic manner linked to suitable weather conditions on the peak migration days, as well as to the hunters’ available free time. The shooting spots are generally located on hardly accessible mountaintops in a landscape which is fragmented by ridges with dense vegetation, thus the direct observation (what the observer can actually see) is quite limited. Thus, most of the tallied shots were fired from unseen hunters at unnoticed targets. This makes it difficult to calculate shooting & hitting and hitting & retrieval rates, both of which are necessary to better estimate the hunting pressure.
A further limitation to getting species-level shot data is the ability of the observer to see the bird before it gets shot (by the time the sound of the shot reaches the observer, the bird is already on the ground), and to identify the bird before it falls into the vegetation. This requires the constant scanning the sky, and even then many shot birds are missed.
Lastly, one major limitation of the present study was that we were only able to monitor one shooting location, next to Station 1. This could likely mean biased data due to the presence and influence of foreign people and the regular encounters between hunters and birdwatchers.

Results

We spent 49 days (approximately 480 hours) in the field, during which we recorded 211 killed and 85 injured birds (getting hit but carrying on, or arriving with missing flight feathers or broken legs) in Sakhalvasho. The majority of the species getting shot at were honey buzzards, but besides raptors, white and black storks, golden orioles and bee-eaters were frequently killed or targeted as well (Table 1). On days with favourable shooting conditions up to 27 hunters were present on the ridges behind the BRC Station 1 in Sakhalvasho. During the entire season we counted 264 hunters in total (average 5.4/day), and 27 children under the estimated age of 15 were participating in the hunting either using their own shotguns or helping in finding and retrieving the shot birds.

The hitting and retrieval rates need further analysis, but it is assumed that approximately every 4th shot hits and actually kills a bird, and many birds are left in the dense vegetation unfound.
A total of 6661 shots were tallied on both stations, with 4518 shots in Sakhalvasho (on average 92 shots/day). There were 19 days when more than 100 shots were fired (with a maximum of 468 shots on 30 August, when Station 1 counted 12,000 birds).
On both counting stations together we observed 77 killed or injured birds that belong to the ‘focus group’: especially vulnerable species to which BRC would like to pay special attention and raise awareness among the hunters (Table 2).

During the body count we found the remains of 445 individual birds, the majority of which were honey buzzards (53%), Eurasian sparrowhawks (11 %) and steppe buzzards (11%). We also found the remnants of 10 booted eagles, 6 large eagles, a grey heron, an osprey, a short-toed eagle, and a male hen harrier.

Conclusions

The data collected during this project suggests it is worthwhile to continue the monitoring for the coming years to be able to evaluate conservation actions across the region. Besides the activities presented here, depending on the funding available, further ideas on the continuation of the project include the (1) expansion of the monitoring to a second control site from 2016 on, where the presence of birders/tourists, and thus the influence of SABUKO’s/BRC’s activities, is much less; and the (2) start of awareness-raising activities included in the project in order to spread information about the focus species and hunting legislation among hunters.

Acknowledgements

​The Project, conducted by Georgian and international volunteers, was a joint cooperation of SABUKO and Batumi Raptor Count volunteers. It was funded by the OSME Conservation and Research Fund, supported by SWAROVSKI OPTICS, and received contribution from the volunteers towards their accommodation expenses. The majority of the fund was used to cover part of the volunteers’ flight and accommodation costs, as well as to pay for the transportation to reach the Body Count locations. Other expenses included phone, internet, office material, batteries, gloves, sanitizer, and local transportation.
 
We would like to express our sincere gratitude towards our sponsors and team members for their valuable help and contribution, without which we would not have been able to realise the project:
 
Sarah Dalrymple, Scotland
Mikheil Potskhishvili, Georgia
Conor Mackenzie, UK
Alice Tribe, UK
Dietrich Ristow, Germany
Tamar Dumbadze, Georgia
Johannes Jansen, Belgium
Anna Sandor, Hungary (project coordinator)