Rare animals will become extinct  because of smuggling and hunting networks and the absence of law in Palestine

After three months of work and investigations, PAL created an investigative report to focus on this dangerous phenomenon which threaten the endangered wildlife in Palestine.


The illegal trade and the black market smuggles and hunts the wild birds in Palestine, threaten many kinds of rare animals and birds. More specifically: goldfinch, gazelle, porcupine and partridge. This affects the environmental balance, not to mention that it is in the absence of laws. Judicial proceedings and proper sanctions are needed to fight against this illegal activity.


Recently, the Israeli Customs Police arrested Palestinian smuggling the goldfinch bird from Jordan to Palestine for profit. The Palestinian Environment Quality Authority documents a list of 45 names with their addresses and contacts for the  Palestinian hunters that overfish.


How do They Smuggle the Birds?

Person (X) from Jenin set an appointment with the seller to meet him in Amman-Jordan. They then go to Allenby bridge together while the birds in cages are under narcotic substances. Once the birds fell asleep, the smuggler put nearly ten birds in two cloths with metal mesh to hide them under his clothes.

After passing through Al-Karama crossing point, X says: “I will go to my car in the parking lot, where I have a cage. I will put the birds in a cage after driving a few kilometers.” The birds, however, wake up on the way back to Jericho.


Person X remains anonymous, even with the sellers because the smugglers and him are afraid to be exposed and therefore arrested.


Why They Smuggle Goldfinch the Most?

As Person X said, buyers love the music that the goldfinch sing, and for this reason, the smugglers can make a lot of money. For example, they can buy a goldfinch from Jordan for three JD (about six NIS), and then inflate the price to at least 300 NIS in Palestine. Lutfi Abu Nasser, the Director of Control and Inspection Department of the Customs Police, said that the most common ways to smuggle the birds are by hiding them in clothes, empty water bottles or chip bags. There are, however, many methods still unknown. In all cases, the birds are anesthetized to ensure they do not move while the smugglers are crossing the borders. They in addition, might fasten the bird’s beak, tie their legs and wings before wrapping it with a cloth or placing it in cloth netting on the leg.

Abu Naser approximates that 20 percent of the smuggling operations have been stopped. “We prevented seven distinct smuggling cases in 2017, but most of the smugglers have been caught by Israeli border control in Allenby. We rely on information while they have modern and accurate systems used to capture and cease the smugglers” he said.

 Dr. Issa Odwan, the General Director of Environmental Resources in the Palestinian Environmental Quality Authority explained that most of the hunting methods such as automatic weapons, dogs, traps, fisheries and poisonous pills, are illegal methods of hunting. “Palestinians have no control over the borders and smuggling of birds is handled by the Israeli borders, which can be considered as a positive influence for Palestinian wildlife, as these birds will be taken back to their natural habitats” Odwan said.


A Black Market for Smuggling

Goldfinch Trades are Increasing!

Imad Al-Atrash, the director of wildlife association, says that in the past smuggler would capture and sell the goldfinch bird because there was demand for them. Now, however, smugglers capture and sell dozens of the birds to make an increasing amount of money. There is a black market between the Palestinians and Israelis in the southern and northern borders with no security Control.


Wild Hunting and its Effects on Biodiversity

Another concern that PAL has is the illegal hunting in Palestine. Person (Z) from Birzeit said that he enjoys hunting the wild birds and animals with their friends just for fun, especially on the mountains at nighttime. They use traps, fisheries, and well-trained hunting dogs. They used to hunt through licensed weapons, but they stopped using these weapons because of security.

Person Z said he is against overfishing but sometimes gives the fishes he captures as present to his friends on BBQ nights. He in addition said that he stops fishing during the breeding period to save the ecological system. Although, during the year, he hunts 8-10 porcupines, 2-3 gazelles, around 10 Procavia capensis and 30-40 Partridges.

Dr. Odwan stated that the Palestinian Environmental Quality Authority are preparing a promotion about the prevention of hunting.  This promotion will be distributed to all media outlets in the spring, as this is the breeding period. It’s important to raise the awareness of Palestinians, especially the hunters, on the importance of rare animals in our nature. “We will organize tours in all areas to check on wild birds and animals and work to integrate them as an essential part of their habitat” followed Odwan.

Al-Atrash said that Palestinian nature faces two threats: the first being overfishing, and the smuggling of Goldfinch birds. The second being the bird hybridization, which affects the pure-bred Goldfinch birds. Al-Atrash followed by saying, “in the past, there were thousands of Goldfinch birds, but now, because of their profitability, they have decreased to be an endangered species.”


Occupation and Apartheid Effects on Wild Animal Diversity

Dr. Odwan mentioned that the occupation has a large effect on the wild animal diversity. The apartheid leads to the closure of the natural corridors that the animals use to move between the north and south and between the east and west. This has limited the population growth in some areas but has increased their growth in other areas. This can clearly lead to disasters and epidemics in nature.

Dr. Odwan explained how the decreasing and increasing of animals can affect the environmental balance: “The existence of some animals is connected to the existence of some plants, so the extinction of these animals will affect this natural balance. We need to study the situation economically, more specifically on the settlements which were built in valleys such as Qana and Asyon, which are rich in their biodiversity.” This will affect the process of pollination and the natural predators of some of the pests. These qualities that forcibly extinct the animals in nature will lead to the increase of their prey and can cause disease, can increase pest which transfers to be a human health concern.


Organized Smuggling Networks and Smugglers are Far Greater than what is Being Seized

 A former customs official at Al-Karama checkpoint said that what is being seized is trivial when we compare it to the actual number of birds being smuggled. Adding that the smuggling of birds became a big network within illegal trade such as cannabis… etc. Illegal traders usually don’t go through the boarders themselves, but they have their workers smuggle the goods. “Most of the smugglers are female. For example, once we found that a woman was travelling with six girls, hiding 120 birds under their clothing” the former official stated. “Because of this, we hired female employees to inspect female passengers on the Al-Karama checkpoint, especially after we found out how big of a trade it was for them” said Lieutenant Colonel Nasser

Although Dr. Adwan does not exclude the existence of smuggling networks, he says that they don’t have enough information to make an educated statement about it. He follows by saying that what is hunted doesn’t make a profit.


The Reasons for Smuggling and Hunting

All people that were interviewed mentioned that the reasons of smuggling and overfishing are not because the presumed reasons: unemployment, bad economic situations and lack of work opportunities. In fact, people smuggle and overfish to make an easy profit or to become rich, though it is through illegal methods.

Dr. Odwan said that most of the hunters considered this activity as a hobby, a way to eat. He encourages them to use this hobby in a positive manner, to protect the nature and the environment through cooperating with associations who also care about environmental issues.


The Economic Sector is the Main Reason of Smuggling

Mohammad Abu Hussei, the co-founder of Ramallah and Al-Bireh Bird Market disagrees with the assumption that the main reason for smuggling is the bad economy or unemployment. “One Goldfinch = 5 JD in Jordan while it’s 300-350 = NIS in the Westbank. This is because Palestinians aren’t allowed to import Goldfinch” he explained.


The Most Wanted Birds and Animals

Dr. Odwan emphasized that there is more aggression put onto the gazelles, porcupines, and the hyenas. For example, the mountain gazelle is endangered, and the numbers are constantly decreasing. Now, there are only around 500 gazelles, and it’s difficult to see them in their natural habitat. The decreasing number of hyenas presents a problem for the Palestinian habitats because they are the natural predators of wild boar.

Dr. Odwan also explained the detrimental effects that hunting targeted birds can have on the environment. Hunting birds such as partridges, the prey for the Eagles and Falcons disrupts the balance of the environment. Instead o hunting partridges, hunters should target less obtrusive birds (ones that are not naturally from the habitat) in order to save the biodiversity in Palestine.


Where and When do People Hunt the Most?

According to Dr. Odwan, hunters hunt the most in the north of the West Bank, especially around cities such as Tulkarem and Jenin. They also hunt Gazelles in the middle of the West Bank, near the Jordan valley area, in villages such as Bardala, Kardala, Jeftlik, and Fasayel.


Collaboration Between Palestinians

Dr. Odwan emphasized the fact that there is a collaboration between 48 Palestinian and Israeli hunters to hunt the same species. Although some Palestinians choose to send what they hunt to Israel. He followed by saying that there are many stories describing hunters who sold Eagles and Hyenas to Israeli people instead of giving them to Palestinians.


Collaboration with Environmental Quality Authority, but it has big question marks

Abu Naser emphasized on the continuing collaboration with Environmental Quality Authority in the seizing the smuggling of birds. Especially if we are talking about rare animals and birds to do the needed procedure. Odwan agreed with him and added that the collaboration is in many issues not only the hunting. When we asked Odwan about the number of cases of smuggled birds that have been seized on Al-karama crossing point, he said, “zero, we don’t have an officer there, although we have a collaboration with Environmental Quality Authority. The Israeli people seize the smugglers before they even reach the Palestinian point” .

Lack of laws and effective procedures

“The penalties for hunters are according to the Jordanian Environment Law of 1962, which are no longer relevant. The penalties are a range between 20 to 200 JD, or the choice of being jailed for a month” Dr. Odwan said.

When explaining the penalties for smugglers, he added, “this is not our specialty, so we refer the smugglers to the Public Prosecution. They are entering birds without official certificates, or special permits”. Al-Atrash added, “while there is an absence of a Palestinian penalty, the fine that Israeli authorities imposed on hunters may reach up to six months imprisonment including a fine of 1200 dollars”.

Al-Atrash, using information from international conventions and laws, stated, “The laws prevent the smuggling of endangered species globally. The Jordanian environmental laws prohibit trading endangered birds. Unfortunately, the executive regulations of this law are not enforced in Palestine. Palestinians are also not in control of the black market or cross-border trade”.

Dr. Dodin said that they are working on a law stating in April they year to protect nature, including penalties, making a clear outline of the animals that can be caught. This law will also include prohibiting fishing outside of allowed times during the year. It will prevent overfishing from natural reserves, and protect biodiversity, especially endangered species from invasive alien species.

Buying and Breeding Endangered Animals

while the hunters are engaged in hunting, Khader Al-Rafidi (a hobbyist of breeding animals of wild birds from Jifna) said, “Instead of killing certain animals, I buy and breed them. For example, I buy Hoyanes for 700-1000 NIS, porcupines for 300-400 NIS, small deer for 400-500 NIS, falcons for 100 NIS, Pesto for 100 NIS”.
He does not know the number of animals and birds he owns, but he explains that he has several species in his garden. He considers his garden to be the nucleus of a zoo, even though the Israeli government prevented him from establishing or licensing it. He has, however, received a license from the Environmental Quality Authority. “When I have too many of a certain species, I release them into the wild” he says.