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

“Is it flamingos you’re trying for? Come to my place after 1pm,” whispers Mustafa Ahmed Ali from inside his small store, which is buzzing with bird sounds of every kind. He has been promoting birds – wild and bred – on the bird 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.

Bird poaching could be a profitable enterprise in Maysan, which is positioned between the Ahwar marshes – a Unesco world heritage web site – and the border with Iran, placing it on the forefront of bird trafficking. The area is a poor one and the unlawful trafficking of birds is a lifeline for many 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 nations reminiscent of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and even Qatar,” he says.

On his rooftop, he opens the gate of a giant cage stuffed with chattering flamingos. “Individuals need them to embellish their gardens, or to place them in their personal 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 useless 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 certainly one of Hussein’s birds, which he’s seen clutching, reveals 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’s an abundance of meals. These which can be captured are offered for 30–40,000 Iraqi dinars (£15–£20).

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

Left, Ahmed Saleh, who got flamingos to decorate his garden. Right, Ali Abou Hussein with one of the three flamingos bought seven years ago

In keeping with Samir Aboud, the top of Maysan’s surroundings division, there is no such thing as a particular laws defending flamingos. Nevertheless, a number of worldwide agreements, ratified by Iraq, shield migrating birds and forbid poaching in the marshes. However their mandate stays restricted. Aboud says: “Because the poaching areas are on the border between Iran and Iraq, it falls below the jurisdiction of the border safety forces, making it troublesome for our police division to regulate 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’s, 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, often called Dr Hamoudi, a well-known environmental activist from Amara. Regardless of the precarious dwelling circumstances in the province, many individuals in Maysan are delicate to ecological points. As a outcome, 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 known 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 a broad number of colors. His brother provided the birds to him two days earlier. “When he introduced them, they have been in dangerous situation, they couldn’t even get up. However once they noticed the fountain, they obtained higher and began shifting round. I’ve been trying for flamingos for a whereas now, primarily as a result of it’s a stunning bird 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 have been by no means taken off, but they by no means left. I feel they’ve became a form of domesticated pet,” he says, including that the birds are allowed to maneuver freely on his farm on the outskirts of Amara.

Ali, the bird vendor, buys his flamingos from poachers in Sheeb, a giant swamp space near the Iranian border. He refused to drive us there. “Strangers aren’t allowed to enter the poacher’s territory,” says Ali.

Poachers in the marshes near Amara

Dr Hamoudi is aware of this space properly. “Annually, hundreds of birds are captured in the marshes. I do know the looking grounds properly, so I typically give data to the environmental police in order to assist them in their operations. They’d be unable to conduct them in any other case,” he says. He additionally usually buys wild animals on the black market solely to launch them afterwards. “Thus far, I’ve freed 17 flamingos and lots of different animals from poachers.”

Dr Hamoudi is usually 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 avoid wasting the flamingos and launch them again into the wild

Whereas attempting 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 have been recognized for being the stronghold of the resistance in opposition to Saddam Hussein’s regime, confronting his military in the early Nineties, throughout what was often called 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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