Annals Of Humanity: The Albanian Bird Slaughter

The routes of many migratory birds, roughly depicted above, connect Europe and Africa. The blue arrow marks the Adriatic Flyway.

Though it is an endless process, it is always worth chronicling the myriad ways in which we inflict death and destruction on the natural world:

Each spring, hundreds of thousands of migrating waterbirds flock northward from Africa across the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas. In search of food, they alight briefly on Albania’s Buna Delta — one of the largest remaining wetlands in all of the Balkan Peninsula.

The delta is also one of the most notorious killing grounds for migrating birds in all of Europe…

Environmental groups have estimated that more than two million ducks, geese, songbirds, and raptors are shot along the Adriatic’s eastern shores every year — part of what’s known as the Adriatic Flyway, a key migratory route for birds making their seasonal journeys between the European and African continents. A recent analysis by Wetlands International, a conservation group based in the Netherlands, concluded that as many as one-third of all birds using the Black Sea-Mediterranean Flyway — an area that includes the Adriatic Flyway — are now in decline, in large part due to illegal hunting.

Apart from the tragedy of it all, this turns out to be a cautionary lesson in the destructive nature of capitalism unleashed:

Albania was once a haven for wildlife. For decades the country’s communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, pursued extreme isolationist policies that stifled development and all but eliminated access to the country’s forested borders and coastal wetlands. When the country opened its doors to the outside world in 1991, rampant development and exploitation of natural resources followed, including unlimited hunting of birds — primarily for sport, but also for market.

When the communism of Enver Hoxha can be favorably compared to the status quo, you have a problem. And that problem is that wildlife, or at least living wildlife, is not valued and protected in the anti-regulatory, free-market fever of modern capitalism.

What would a world in which all those birds were valued, and given moral consideration, look like? Beautiful, diverse, and resilient. We just have to somehow figure out a way to get there.

The Cost Of Human Diversions

Lead from bullets used by hunters is killing off condors:

Today 234 birds are living in the wild (194 of them captive bred), but the prognosis for the species is scarcely brighter than in 1982; they’re being poisoned. When lead bullets strike bone they tend to splinter, impregnating meat and entrails with toxic fragments, any one of which can kill a condor. All manner of carrion-eating birds and mammals feast on the poisoned gut piles left when hunters field dress game…

…When vertebrates ingest lead, their bodies mistake it for calcium and beneficial metals, incorporating it into vital tissues. Symptoms include anemia, convulsions, paralysis, and deterioration of brain, eyes, kidneys, and liver. Humans generally survive lead poisoning, albeit with diminished motor and cognitive capacity. (Research indicates that after lead was removed from U.S. gasoline in the 1970s, children’s IQs rose an average of six points.) But to make it in the unforgiving world of nature, wildlife has to be fine-tuned. So lead-poisoning in wild mammals and birds is rarely survivable.

Today wild condors are on life support because of lead in their blood. They must be routinely captured and detoxed with calcium-based drugs. But the drugs strip away nutrients as well as lead, weakening the birds so they can’t be released for a month or more. A study by the University of California, Santa Cruz found that 48 percent of condors tested and treated between 1997 to 2010 had potentially lethal blood-lead levels.

Just one more reason that hunting is a culture and tradition that needs to evolve.

A California condor is treated for lead poisoning by National Park Service biologists. (Photo by U.S. National Parks Service)

Cry The Beloved Wolf

The twisted politics and false dilemmas of trying to save the American wolf. These conflicts between human culture and economics on the one hand, and species survival on the other hand, are increasingly legion. So far, the sensibilities and priorities we bring to these issues don’t bode well for the animals.

I have to say, I have particular disdain for claims regarding the romance and pleasure of hunting as a priority or rationale for killing animals.

What about the romance and heritage of one of North America’s iconic species?

But what the heck, maybe we can undo it all later.