'Looking for a Flamingo?': Bird Trafficking in Iraq
March 1, 2021
“Is it flamingos you’re looking for? Come to my place after 1 pm,” whispers Mustafa Ahmed Ali from inside his small shop, which is buzzing with bird sounds of all kinds. He has been selling birds – wild and bred – at the bird market in Amara, in Iraq’s Maysan province, for more than 30 years. In his small bricked house in Amara’s suburbs, Ali admits selling various species of birds, mostly to rich Iraqis or foreigners from the Gulf states. “Many flamingos die in my cage, especially during warm summer days,” he admits, adding: “I sell between one and 10 of those birds every month during winter, the peak season. They buy them dead or alive because people also eat them.” Holding a flamingo tightly under his arm, Ali says the police are no threat to his business, despite a local decree banning flamingo poaching.
Another man called Ahmed Saleh, no relation to Dr. Hamoudi, recently bought some flamingos for his garden. His kitschy fountain is lit with pink, blue, and red iridescent lamps, shading the wild birds with a wide variety of colors. His brother offered the birds to him two days earlier. “When he brought them, they were in bad condition, they couldn’t even stand up. But when they saw the fountain, they got better and started moving around. I’ve been looking for flamingos for a while now, mainly because it’s a beautiful bird to have in a garden,” Saleh says.
The flamingos are unable to escape Saleh’s garden because they lack the necessary space to take off. Sometimes, the poachers or owners cut off the main feathers of the birds to prevent them from flying away.
Flamingos migrate to the south of Iraq every year during the winter period, specifically between October and February, to places where the temperature is milder and where there is plenty of food for birds. Bird poaching is a common practice in Iraq, and generally, birds that have been captured are sold for IQD 30 000 - 40 000 (USD 20.5 - 27). Despite the international law instruments that protect migrating birds, the domestic law of Iraq does not protect flamingos, according to the Head of the Environmental Department of Maysan. However, there is a provincial government ban on selling flamingos in the market. The Head of the Environmental Department of Maysan said that “since the poaching areas are at the border between Iran and Iraq, it falls under the jurisdiction of the border protection forces, making it difficult for our police department to control the area or conduct arrest operations.”