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500 Dead in 2015:
In Iraqi Kurdistan, Illegal Hunting Threatens Local Wildlife

Dashty Ali
Iraqi Kurdish nature lovers fear illegal hunting is killing off wildlife. The law can’t deter the hunters either – especially if they are relatives of leading Kurdish families who get off lightly.
8.03.2016  |  Sulaymaniyah
activists in the campaign against hunting activities in Kalar (photo: Dashty Ali)
activists in the campaign against hunting activities in Kalar (photo: Dashty Ali)

The hunting of wild animals is not completely legal in the semi-autonomous northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan. However that does not appear to be stopping determined local sportsmen. And recently authorities say there has been an increase in illegal hunting in the region.

“Every day we arrest hunters and confiscate their vehicles,” Shwan Hama Rashid, the head of the Forestry and Environmental Police in the Garmiyan area told NIQASH. “We have arrested some of the hunters as many as nine times - but they continue to hunt illegally.”

Rashid says that his force consists of 550 officers in four different departments, based around various districts, but that this is still not enough as the area they’re trying to police is very large. 

“And the hunters tend to be driving fast, modern cars while we only have older vehicles,” Rashid adds, “so they easily outrun us.” The hunters have also fired on the police chasing them, he notes. “Last year an officer was injured.”

Some suggest that hunters are getting off lightly in court because they are related to influential Iraqi Kurdish families and politicians.

The Garmiyan area is well known for its vast plains and valleys and an abundance of wildlife. And the hunters who come here, mostly at night, to practise their sport like to go after deer, rabbits and partridges.

Figures released by Rashid’s department show that during 2015, 279 hunters were arrested and 115 weapons were confiscated. One local environmental organisation estimates that 500 deer were killed by hunters, along with unknown numbers of birds and other animals. Although the figures are inexact, both conservationists and the local police believe that there are more hunters and fewer animals in the area.

It is uncertain as to why there has been an increase. Hunting is treated like a sport in Iraqi Kurdistan with hunters competing for bigger kills. Most of the animals caught are eaten, rather than displayed as trophies.

The increase in hunting saw local environmentalists stage a protest in the city of Kalar recently.

“Unfortunately the amount of hunting going on is now posing a danger to the local environment and anyone who is concerned about this shouldn’t remain silent about how our wild animals are being killed, especially local deer,” explains Azad Ahmad, who runs a local nature preservation group, Friends of the Environment, in Garmiyan.

There is a law on hunting in Iraqi Kurdistan, part of 2008’s Law of Environmental Protection and Improvement. There are special rules within the law that denote punishments for illegal hunting, including a fine of IQD10 million (around US$8,700) for killing one deer. This amount doubles if the offender repeats their misdeeds.

However, as with so many laws in Iraq, related to the environment and other topics, it is hard to enforce.

“Some of the judges and officials in Garmiyan don’t enforce these laws and they go easy on hunters,” Akram Salih, the head of Garmiyan’s local Department of the Environment, complained to NIQASH.

Other less diplomatic locals suggest that the reason hunters are getting off lightly is because they tend to be the sons of influential Iraqi Kurdish families and party officials. The police are unable to stop them.

“The hunters are leading members of local society, or they are related to them,” says one of the environmental activists, Beston Zalaia. “And they’re directly responsible for the extinction of local wildlife.”

“We have asked the authorities to create nature reserves,” says Khaled Balani, a professor at the University of Garmiyan, who fears that rare species like the marbled teal and the Egyptian goose may soon disappear from Iraqi Kurdistan. “But unfortunately protecting the environment does not seem to be a priority.”

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