In May 2013, the IAF was alerted to an incident involving Bonelli’s Eagles nesting in Sicily. Two Bonelli’s Eagle chicks had disappeared from a nest and this discovery was greeted by outrage from the conservationists and Bird-watchers involved in the monitoring of these birds in Sicily.
The Bonelli’s Eagle population in Sicily represents the last stronghold of this species in Italy. The population is intensively monitored by a coalition of conservationist and some financial support is provided for this by the Humane Society (UK). The population has grown from some 12 to 15 pairs in 1999 to 26 breeding pairs now. This population is vulnerable due to its isolation, human persecution and decreasing suitable habitat. None-the-less, various conservation groups and websites identify theft for Falconry as the main threat faced by this population. The outrage which followed the theft of the chicks was accompanied by significant rhetoric which condemned Falconry and there were calls for the banning of our Art in Italy. The IAF reacted strongly to this outcry and I provided a statement:
"It has been brought to the attention of the IAF that two Bonelli’s Eagles have been removed illegally from a nest in Sicily. The Bonelli’s Eagle faces a range of challenges to its survival in Sicily and the population there is the subject of a significant conservation effort. The IAF condemns the theft of these birds in the strongest terms. It has been alleged that these birds were stolen by Falconers and, if this proves to be the case, we wish to advise the culprits that law-abiding Falconers from all over the world will hold their actions in the utmost contempt.
The IAF represents Falconers from 60 nations around the world. We work to have our Art recognized as a legitimate and respectable “Field-sport”. Falconers from all regions of the world contribute to conservation and we support and encourage that engagement. We also support the sustainable utilization of wild raptors and quarry species as this is to the benefit of conservation, as recognized by the Convention on Biological Diversity. We are guided by the Addis Ababa Principles and Guidelines which recognize that sustainable use is not possible without adequate conservation measures in place.
We note the outrage that has followed reports of the theft of the Bonelli’s Eagle chicks and we wish it noted that we share this outrage. However we regret the hyperbole that accompanies this outrage. It is utterly unreasonable to call for the banning of Falconry on the basis of this and even other thefts. Exaggerated claims regarding the value of these birds and claims of a non-existent lucrative Arab market for these birds can only fuel further illegal activity based on this false premise. It would be far more productive to recognize Falconers as a force for conservation and a resource that could contribute to conservation in Sicily, as well as elsewhere in the world. An effort to share custodianship of these birds can only benefit their conservation.
The IAF calls for all interested parties to open dialogue and seek ways to contribute to the conservation of Raptors in Sicily. We shall, with the support and involvement of Italian Falconers, propose ways in which Falconers can contribute to this conservation effort. We hope that, from this unfortunate event, ways to enhance the conservation effort may follow.
Following the event and our response, Italian Falconers were able to assist the State Forestry Corps, which represents the enforcement of CITES related legislation in Italy, with information. Their investigations led to arrests and recovery of the Eagle chicks in north Italy. Unfortunately, one of the chicks was dead but the survivor was returned to Sicily. This bird has been hacked back to the wild and has been seen hunting successfully.
Marco Fiori and Ivan Severoni of Law-enforcement in the Italy State Forestry Corps was invited to the IAF AGM in Valkenswaard in June. Marco Fiori presented a report to us regarding the illegal trafficking in raptors in Italy and details of this specific case, acknowledging the assistance which he received from legitimate Falconers. We thank him for taking this effort and his willingness to recognize that, with respect to illegal trade, Falconers must be seen as part of the solution not the problem.
Subsequent to this, there has been further anti-Falconry rhetoric in Italy with slanderous comment made about the IAF and members of the IAF Board. This is intolerable and we are responding. There are important lessons in this incident:
- Falconers and Conservationists must learn to work together and to trust one-another for the benefit of conservation of biodiversity.
- The Illegal trade in Raptors is a very serious issue for legitimate Falconers. The right to practice our art and, certainly, any hope of access to a sustainable harvest of wild raptors is seriously jeopardized by the illegal trade. All reasonable falconers must take a strong stand against this.
- Animal-Rights and “Anti-Use” groups will make use of any incident of this nature to attack us and our Art, even to the extent of ignoring more pressing conservation concerns for the species which they purport to conserve. The illegal trade provides their ammunition
The IAF will look for ways to engage in the conservation of Raptors in Italy and the Mediterranean region. We hope to engage with the reasonable conservationists working with the Bonelli’s Eagles and find ways to support their effort. We are look at a research project which will monitor and obtain population data on the Lanner Falcons in this region which we believe to be threatened. We hope that Italian Falconers and other Falconers from the region will support our efforts.
We shall look for ways to address the illegal traffic in raptors and encourage legitimate Falconers to combat this."
President – IAF
15 th August 2013.