Iraq steps up efforts to Stop Smuggling of Rare Species

By Wassim Bassem for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

Iraq’s Ministry of Health and Environment released 20 falcons back into the wild Nov. 17. The falcons had been smuggled earlier in the month to Kuwait, which returned them to Iraq. This incident is but one example of the systematic smuggling of rare birds and animals out of the country, and the authorities are working to better enforce existing laws and adding security measures.

“The lack of surveillance on the vast, open borders as well as the rampant corruption at the ports make such operations both possible and profitable for smugglers and merchants,” an officer in the Iraqi Ministry of Interior told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity.

Smugglers are encouraged by traders in the Gulf states who pay huge sums of money to purchase rare, ornamental or hunting birds. There’s an anecdote circulating that a rare breed of pigeon recently sent bird fanciers in Kuwait into a bidding war, driving the final price for the birds to $33,000.

“Many trade transactions are conducted illegally, away from any environmental or security controls,” Manal al-Muslimawi, a member of the Iraqi parliament’s Environment Committee, told Al-Monitor. “The Iraqi laws [are supposed to] protect the environment and its biological diversity, but they are not being enforced.”

The falcon incident, Muslimawi said, “is one out of hundreds of smuggling cases of Iraqi birds and rare animals, and the parliamentary committee is aware of that.” She added, “The environmental police in Iraq are not up to the challenge, given the lack of the needed personnel.”

Some markets in Baghdad even sell protected species in plain sight.

“Some well-known smugglers are buying rare animal and bird species from the market to selling them through cross-border networks,” bird trader Sheikh Ali told Al-Monitor.

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