‘Looking for a flamingo?’: bird trafficking in Iraq – in pictures | Environment

“Is it flamingos you’re searching for? Come to my place after 1pm,” whispers Mustafa Ahmed Ali from inside his small store, which is buzzing with chicken sounds of all types. He has been promoting birds – wild and bred – on the chicken market in Amara, in Iraq’s Maysan province, for greater than 30 years.

A pet flamingo that lives on Ali Abou Hussein’s farm outside Amara.

Fowl poaching generally is a profitable enterprise in Maysan, which is situated between the Ahwar marshes – a Unesco world heritage website – and the border with Iran, placing it on the forefront of chicken trafficking. The area is a poor one and the unlawful trafficking of birds is a lifeline for a lot of households.

One of Ali Abou Hussein’s flamingos roaming around his farm

In his small bricked home in Amara’s suburbs, Ali admits promoting numerous species of birds, largely to wealthy Iraqis or foreigners from the Gulf states. “They journey all the way in which right here from international locations equivalent to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and even Qatar,” he says.

On his rooftop, he opens the gate of a giant cage filled with chattering flamingos. “Folks need them to embellish their gardens, or to place them of their non-public zoos. I’m the one supplying many Iraqi patrons.

“Many flamingos die in my cage, particularly throughout heat summer season days,” he admits, including: “I promote between one and 10 of these birds each month throughout winter, the height season. They purchase them lifeless or alive, as a result of individuals additionally eat them.”

Flamingos belonging to Mustafa Ahmed Ali

A ring found on one of the flamingos bought by Ali Abou Hussein indicates that the bird originally comes from Iran

A flamingo owner holds his bird

  • Flamingos belonging to Mustafa Ahmed Ali. He sells as much as 10 birds a month. A hoop discovered on one among Hussein’s birds, which he’s seen clutching, exhibits it got here from Iran

It’s in the course of the winter months of October to February that the birds migrate in direction of the southern Iraqi marshes, the place temperatures are milder and there may be an abundance of meals. These which can be captured are bought for 30–40,000 Iraqi dinars (£15–£20).

Holding a flamingo tightly underneath his arm, Ali says the police are not any menace to his enterprise, regardless of a neighborhood decree banning flamingo poaching. Nonetheless, he stays cautious, including: “I don’t convey flamingos into my store. No want … individuals know the place to search out me, and in the event that they do need one, they meet me at house or I can ship the chicken on to their place.”

Left, Ahmed Saleh, who bought flamingos to embellish his backyard. Proper, Ali Abou Hussein with one of many three flamingos purchased seven years in the past

In response to Samir Aboud, the top of Maysan’s setting division, there is no such thing as a particular laws defending flamingos. Nonetheless, a number of worldwide agreements, ratified by Iraq, defend migrating birds and forbid poaching within the marshes. However their mandate stays restricted. Aboud says: “For the reason that poaching areas are on the border between Iran and Iraq, it falls underneath the jurisdiction of the border safety forces, making it tough for our police division to manage the world or conduct arrest operations.”

Bird market of Amara, Iraq

Bodies of flamingos lie on the floor of a house were different types of birds are plucked before being sold

The bird market in Amarah

There may be, nevertheless, a provincial authorities ban on the sale of flamingos in markets. The decree was initiated following a civil society marketing campaign, led by Ahmed Saleh, generally known as Dr Hamoudi, a widely known environmental activist from Amara. Regardless of the precarious dwelling circumstances within the province, many individuals in Maysan are delicate to ecological points. Consequently, sellers are pressured to be extra discreet than earlier than.

Ali Abou Hussein’s son plays with one of their three flamingos in a courtyard of their house

One other man referred to as Ahmed Saleh, no relation to Dr Hamoudi, just lately purchased some flamingos for his backyard. His kitschy fountain is lit with pink, blue and crimson iridescent lamps, shading the wild birds with all kinds of colors. His brother provided the birds to him two days earlier. “When he introduced them, they had been in unhealthy situation, they couldn’t even rise up. However once they noticed the fountain, they bought higher and began transferring round. I’ve been searching for flamingos for some time now, primarily as a result of it’s an exquisite chicken to have in a backyard,” Saleh says.

The flamingos are unable to flee Saleh’s backyard as a result of they lack the mandatory area to take off. Typically, the poachers or homeowners lower off the primary feathers of the birds to forestall them from flying away.

Ali Abou Hussein purchased three flamingos seven years in the past. “Their feathers had been by no means taken off, but they by no means left. I feel they’ve become a sort of domesticated pet,” he says, including that the birds are allowed to maneuver freely on his farm on the outskirts of Amara.

Ali, the chicken vendor, buys his flamingos from poachers in Sheeb, a big swamp space near the Iranian border. He refused to drive us there. “Strangers are usually not allowed to enter the poacher’s territory,” says Ali.

Poachers in the marshes near Amara

Dr Hamoudi is aware of this space nicely. “Every year, 1000’s of birds are captured within the marshes. I do know the looking grounds nicely, so I generally give info to the environmental police in an effort to assist them of their operations. They’d be unable to conduct them in any other case,” he says. He additionally repeatedly buys wild animals on the black market solely to launch them afterwards. “To date, I’ve freed 17 flamingos and lots of different animals from poachers.”

Dr Hamoudi is repeatedly threatened by the poachers. He says: “They’re armed and once they discover me monitoring their strikes, they threaten me and urge me to by no means come again or I’ll get killed.”

One of Ahmed Saleh’s flamingos

Portrait of Ahmed Saleh, environmental activist

  • Ahmed Saleh’s just lately purchased flamingos in his backyard (left), and ‘Dr Hamoudi’, who shares Ahmed Saleh’s identify however works to save lots of the flamingos and launch them again into the wild

Whereas making an attempt to achieve Sheeb, we encountered 4 armed poachers. One was carrying an axe whereas one other nervously waved his gun at us, ordering us to go away instantly.

The Iraqi marshes had been identified for being the stronghold of the resistance in opposition to Saddam Hussein’s regime, confronting his military within the early Nineties, throughout what was generally known as the Battle of the Marshes. These swamps on the Iranian border have remained a lawless place since then, the place flamingo poaching, like drug and weapon smuggling, is a enterprise like another.

One of Ahmed Saleh’s flamingos

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