Bringing birds back to Iraq

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2007:
BAGHDAD–Rediscovering and restoring the bird life of Iraq is
an obsession for ornithologists who remember the nation as the
crossing of flight paths for migratory species coming and going from
all parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe.
The Mesopotamian marshlands, twice the size of the Florida
Everglades, were reputedly the richest birding habitat in the world
before dictator Saddam Hussein drained 90% in 1991 to try to flush
out rebels against his rule.
About 40% of the marshlands have been reflooded and restored
since 2003. All 150 bird species known to have lived there in 1979
have been seen in recent winter-and-summer surveys, Birdlife
International adviser Richard Porter told BBC News in January 2007.
That leaves many of the 237 species native to the rest of
Iraq still largely unaccounted for, between habitat loss and decades
of unrestrained shooting.


The effort to find and protect Iraq birds advanced with the
January 25, 2007 publication of a Field Guide to the Birds of Iraq
in Arabic, assembled by Iraqi and Jordanian birders and biologists
who were funded by the Canadian International Devel-opment Agency,
the World Bank, and the Ornithological Society of the Middle East.
Canada-Iraq Marshlands Initiative director Barry Warner hoped
that the book would encourage Iraqis to better respect birds and bird
habitat. But continued fighting tends to thwart most efforts on
behalf of any animals, no matter how small.
Alabama Wildlife Center director Anne Miller and colleague
Chris DePew, for instance, in June and July 2006 spent two months
advising and encouraging civilian contractor John Mayberry by e-mail,
as Mayberry worked to rehabilitate an injured fledgling Hutton’s
little owl that he discovered near the Baghdad airport.
“Mayberry made some progress,” DePew told ANIMAL PEOPLE,
“but unfortunately the owl died from the stress of a nearby mortar
attack before he could be released into the wild.”

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