In 2008, the Batumi Raptor Count project was the first initiative able to substantially describe and quantify the migration of raptors along the Eastern Black Sea route. However, several people have made an attempt to undertake this daunting task in the past, though their efforts remained insufficiently recognised by both the scientific community and the general public. Mostly confronted with unsubstantial funding and manpower such an undertaking was an impossibly hard task indeed. Nevertheless, these people were the first to stress the major impact of this migratory bottleneck for the knowledge concerning migrating Eurasian raptors and especially the impact of hunting and falconry in the Caucasus region. With the following overview, the BRC team wishes to recognize and homage the efforts of these people, without whom the inspiration for this project might never have come to be.
A historical tradition of Falconry and Hunting sports is deeply rooted and widely spread throughout all of the south eastern Mediterranean and Caucasus regions. This phenomenon has been of major concern for many researchers (e.g. the notorious Maltese hunting tradition). In Georgia, the Kolkheti lowlands are known to house a high number of trappers and hunters, as this is where the Eastern Black Sea route come to it’s most concentrated bottleneck. An apparent form of respect towards raptors has traditionally always been part of Georgian culture and publications considering the hunting practices themselves were made as early as 1949 (A. Robakidze). Nevertheless, no substantial efforts towards the research on the extent and impact of raptor shooting and trapping, nor a quantification of raptor migration was made for a very long time.
In 1986 and 1989 however, Gernant Magnin (The Netherlands) who had earlier established work on Maltese hunting practices, made a first consideration of similar activities in north-east Turkey. His research was primarily based on Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) trapping in this region and included an assessment of mortality of up to 10.000 birds for Georgia, based on his Turkish data. However, the intensity of these traditions is not evenly spread throughout these countries and realistic numbers should be considerably lower than this (van Maanen et al. , 2001). Even so, his work was the base point for future research in south-east Georgia, as it was the first paper to raise both awareness and concern for this previously unknown migratory route (Econatura.nl).
Continuing the work of Magnin, Mr. Alexander Abuladze has considered several aspects of the Georgian raptor biology. This included a paper (1997) specifically considering the issues for conservation with raptors in Georgia. He reported a high concentration of migrating raptors over the Batumi region and significant mortalities by hunter and falconer practices as well. The same was true for an anonymous work for the United Nations Environment Programme in 1996. Also the late Mr. Givi Chogovadze made an account of the Georgian falconry tradition in 1998 as the then President of the Georgian Falconers’ Association.
Based on these proceedings Erwin van Maanen, Irakli Goradze, Alexander (Lexo) Gavashelishvili and Rezo Goradze undertook the challenge to make a regional assessment of the impact of the trapping and hunting of raptors in western Georgia. Regardless of their limited means, an intensive study resulted, including interviews with local trappers, visits to traditional falconry competitions, searches for corpses of shot birds, and so on. All this led to the publication of a detailed review for Birdlife International (BI) in 2001 which also led to an intimate partnership of BI with the Georgian Center for the Conservation of Wildlife (GCCW). The Georgian Falconers’ Association was appalled by the numbers of casualties involved in illegal trappings and shootings. Not only do they strongly reject this practice, the organisation also wants to help in the education of local people and development of a disciplined sport.During the following years, the work of these gentlemen led to some successes for Georgian raptors, including the publication of ‘The Raptors and Owls of Georgia’ by Rafaël Galvez, Zura Javakhishvili and Lexo Gavashelishvili. A benchmark in the education of Georgians about raptors with special attention for the conservation status of all species. Educational posters and pamflets and some seminars were also scheduled for the people of Adjara in south-west Georgia. In 2003, the Adjaran organisation PSOVI, with Irakli Goradze and Jimsher Mamuchadze, succeeded in organising a migration monitoring project with special attention for the involvement of local falconers. Though they simply did not have the necessary tools to fully accomplish such an ambitious count across the bottleneck for the full season, again the amount of migrating raptors was shown to be very high. Sadly however, further developments concerning the protection and research on migratory raptors have been hard to achieve due to a number of factors in the unstable republic of Georgia where conservation is not a key-issue and socio-economical crisis has been rampant.
As of 2008, with the use of Western knowledge and experience and with substantial funding the Batumi Raptor Count project aims to fully monitor raptor migration at the Batumi site and further encourage the Georgian people to handle this extremely important bottleneck with care. As such we can now actually pursue the visions of the people who have worked so hard to achieve this. We wish to thank everyone who have devoted so many years to accomplish this and are still doing so. It is our intent to keep this wonderful, natural phenomenon safe from those same perils that have threatened raptors in other parts of the world so far. May we all work together to prevent men from making such mistakes all over again. It is our responsibility to ourselves, future generations and the natural world!
Abuladze, A. (1994) Birds of Prey in Georgia in the 20th Century. In: Meyburg, B.-U. and R.D. Chancellor, eds. Raptor conservation today. World Working Group of Birds of Prey. London: Pica Press.
Abuladze, A. (1997). Status and conservation problems of raptors in Caucasia. Newsletter World Working Group of Birds of Prey 26/27: 15–19.
Gálvez, R.A., L. Gavashelishvili & Z. Javakhishvili 2005. Raptors and owls of Georgia. Buneba Print/ Georgian Centre for the Conservation of Wildlife, Tblisi, Georgia.
Maanen, van E. 1998. Roofvogeltrek naar Afrika en de gevaren onderweg (Raptor migration to Africa and the dangers underway). De Takkeling 6(2): 134-140.
Maanen, E. van, I. Goradze, A. Gavashelishvili & R. Goradze 2001a. Trapping and hunting of migratory raptors in western Georgia. Bird Conservation International 11:77-92.
Maanen, E. van, A. Gavashelishvili, I. Goradze & R. Goradze 2001b. Ecologie, aantallen en bescherming van roofvogels in Georgië (Ecology, numbers and protection of raptors in Georgia). De Takkeling 9(2):118-134. (Journal of the Dutch Working Group on Birds of Prey).
Magnin, G. (1989) Falconry and hunting in Turkey during 1987. Cambridge, U.K.: ICBP (Study Report 34).
Verhelst B. Jansen J. & Vansteelant W. 2011. South West Georgia: an important bottleneck for raptor migration during autumn. Ardea 99:137-146.
Villkonskii, F.V. 1897. Ornithological fauna of Adjaria, Guria and northeastern part of of Lazistan. Materials on the study of Fauna and Flora of the Russian Empire. Journal of the Russian Zoological Society 3:1-121.
The Georgian Center for the Conservation of Wildlife (GCCW)