Four years of hunting ban in Albania - an intermin assessment

Still a long way to go

In 2014 the Albanian government declared a total hunting ban on the whole country in order to halt the catastrophic decline of wildlife populations. But is the hunting ban serving its purpose? Scientist Daniel Ruppert of the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development went into the matter. Together with activists of Albanian EuroNatur partner PPNEA, he ventured to visit even the most remote areas of Albania from September till December 2017. Daniel Ruppert reports on the results of his field study in this interview.

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Supported by PPNEA and local guides, Daniel Ruppert (far right, with Joni Vorpsi and Ndoc Mulaj) reached even the most remote corners of Albania.

 

© PPNEA

 

After a research trip, US journalist and bestselling author Jonathan Franzen called Albania a death trap for birds. This was more than a year before the countrywide hunting ban was introduced. Is Franzen’s finding still true today?

When you go hiking in Albania, you still can walk for hours without hearing a single bird. But I didn’t experience the situation as drastically as Jonathan Franzen did back then. He talked impressively about hunting tourism in Albania. This is a sector, where the hunting ban has a positive effect. Jonathan Franzen was in Divjaka-Karavasta National Park together with the then Deputy Minister of the Environment Taulant Bino. There they often came into contact with Italian hunters. When I was there at the end of 2017 with Taulant Bino, PPNEA staff and national park rangers, I received unanimous feedback that the hunting pressure from tourists there has greatly decreased. The whole business was declared illegal and can no longer be done like before. However, as media coverage had focused on Divjaka-Karavasta, controls have been much more intensive there than in other areas. Thus, the situation in this park is pretty exceptional.

(Kopie 1)

Did you also witness other situations?

Yes, we did. For example, we heard gunshots and saw hunters in Lake Skadar Nature Park, where just a few rangers have to oversee a very large area. One of them said that they so far recorded only five breaches of the hunting ban in 2017, which was in sharp contrast to what we experienced during our short visit. PPNEA and other Albanian NGOs documented a large number of infringements there over the past year.

Our study showed that the hunting ban is only effective in areas showing the following features: They are nationally and internationally protected areas, implementation of the hunting ban is supported by external funding, the person in charge is not corrupt, and regional nature reserve administrations and NGOs carry out inspections. These criteria are hardly ever fully met. Regions without protected area status generally see no inspections at all. Particularly in remote mountain areas, nobody is put off by the hunting ban. Considering that protected areas cover only 18 percent of the country – on paper –, more than 80 percent of Albania remain largely uncontrolled. You can find cartridge cases not only in the mountains, but even in Tirana’s hinterland.

So there are major control deficiencies. Are breaches of the hunting ban even punished?

In the early days of the hunting ban, controls were carried out more forcefully and sanctions were imposed, too. That slackened a lot. I didn’t notice a single control during the whole period of my research. The moratorium on hunting provides for a penalty ranging from 600 euros to about 8,000 euros. However, implementation is lacking. The protected area rangers have little incentive to bring about penalties. They would continue to live in their village community after blowing the whistle on other villagers. Moreover, corruption is still widespread in Albania.

How well are the people in Albania informed about the hunting ban and how do they think about it? 

Everyone I have spoken to – even in the remotest regions – has heard of the hunting ban. But without enforcement, people don’t take the hunting ban seriously. Particularly people in the remote mountain regions have other problems to struggle with. They feel let down by the state. 

The registered hunters feel discriminated by the hunting ban. They say that they are the only ones who no longer go hunting, while poachers continue their business unimpededly. Many of them think that limited bans would be sufficient, such as a ban on hunting during the breeding season or on certain hunting practices.

You report on poachers armed with Kalashnikovs. This sounds like ‘Wild West’ in South-Eastern Europe. What makes people in Albania become poachers?

To some it’s a kind of sports, others go after species which damage their property, for example boars or bears. In general, the impact of the people living in the sparsely populated areas is very low compared to organised poachers which kill animals on a large scale. Due to demand by restaurants, hunting continues to be a lucrative business.

Has the research been difficult? Probably very few people wanted to speak openly about poaching ...

In fact the research has only been possible thanks to PPNEA and their close cooperation with the locals. Some people regarded us with suspicion, because they were aware that they are doing something illegal. For example, one house had the walls draped with large rifles. When our host noticed that we wanted to talk about the hunting ban, he took down the guns.

Did you get into an invidious or delicate situation?

Shalё is a very self-contained, isolated mountain region in Northern Albania. Already on the way there we met jeeps with armed hunters in camouflage. We stopped over at a hut. The hunters immediately put away their rifles, some of them also disappeared into the forest. I had a bad feeling about that. Apart from that I never felt threatened. This was certainly also due to the fact that we were always accompanied by people who were respected locally or came from the region.

Does the Albanian government really try to let wildlife populations recover?

I met people in the ministry of the environment who work hard for the enforcement of the hunting ban. However, the government as a whole treats the hunting ban as a minor issue. I gained the impression that it was more of a signalling in the context of Albania’s efforts to accede the EU. The government wanted to show: We do care about the environment as well. Enforcement, however, is not taken seriously.

It seems that a nation-wide hunting ban is not sufficient to lastingly stop the catastrophic decline of wildlife populations in Albania. What would a sustainable hunting regime look like and how far from its implementation is Albania?

Still pretty far. Very important: In order to define hunting quotas, you first need to know which species are there and how big their populations are. However, funding, structures and clear responsibilities for wildlife monitoring are still lacking in Albania. Thus it remains fragmentary, mainly consisting of the annual International Waterbird Census and specific programmes by PPNEA and universities. This makes cooperation of the various stakeholders even more important. EuroNatur is advocating precisely this. A platform is needed which provides advice to the government for setting up a sustainable hunting regime step by step. Hunting must no longer be treated as a minor issue which is on the agenda only when international pressure becomes too big. And we need a separation of powers: Who defines hunting quotes, who controls implementation, and who imposes sanctions.

Daniel Ruppert, thank you very much for the conversation.

The interview was conducted by Katharina Grund in June 2018. 

Background on the hunting ban in Albania

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Gewilderter Dachs in Vlora/ Albanien.

© Xhemal Xherri/ PPNEA
  • In communist times, Albania is a paradise for chamois, deer, hare, foxes and birds. Hunting is restricted to a small elite. 
  • The political shift in the early 1990s changes the situation dramatically. Both legal and illegal hunting soar. Particularly the turmoil in 1997 washes lots of illegal weapons into the hands of civilians. At the same time, hunting tourists particularly from Italy invade the country. Wildlife populations decline massively. 
  • National and international nature conservation associations, including EuroNatur and its Albanian partners, have been persistently campaigning for a nationwide hunting ban since 2012.
  • In 2013, US bestselling author, journalist and bird lover Jonathan Franzen publishes the essay “Last Song for Migratory Birds” in National Geographic magazine, generating significant attention internationally. He describes Albania as a death trap for birds. 
  • Public pressure prompts the Albanian government to impose a nationwide hunting ban (2014 - 2016). The ban on hunting is widely endorsed, even among hunters. The ministry of the environment presents an action plan for reforming the hunting system in Albania.
  • The hunting reform progresses slowly. When the two-year hunting ban expires, there’s hardly any improvement in wildlife’s situation. The Albanian government decides – this time against the resistance of hunters – to extend the hunting ban for five years (until 2021). However, there is no timetable for further action.
  • In March 2017, the Constitutional Court in Tirana rejects an action by hunters to lift the hunting ban and instead confirms its constitutionality.
  • EuroNatur and its Albanian partners are committed to setting up a platform to bring the various stakeholders together. The aim is to achieve sustainable management of hunting.

The Study

Assessing the effectiveness of the hunting ban in Albania

Download (2 MB)

Interview in EuroNatur's magazin 3-2018

Still a long way to go - Interim assessment of four years hunting ban in Albania

Download (563 KB)

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