The global conservation status of European turtle dove (gamiema) has been uplisted to Vulnerable (VU), meaning this iconic species is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. Previously listed as Least Concern (LC), Turtle Doves worldwide have been declining so rapidly that they have been upgraded to a higher level of concern, according to the latest assessment carried out by BirdLife International for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, released yesterday.
The global turtle dove population has faced a decline exceeding 30% over the past 16 years. These declines are thought to be largely down to habitat changes and loss and hunting pressure.
This summer, the species was upgraded to Vulnerable at European level, resulting in revisions of global status assessment. Turtle dove, formerly a familiar summer visitor in Europe, also breeds in Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and winters mainly in the Sahel zone of Africa.
In the EU, Malta remains the only country to allow hunting of these birds in spring, before they are about to reproduce, with a maximum of 11,000 birds allowed to be killed legally. Spring hunting is outlawed by the EU Birds Directive.
‘Maltese spring hunting law obliges government to consider the conservation status before deciding on the next hunting season. However, spring hunting of the species facing extinction in the wild cannot be sustainable in any way,’ explains Nicholas Barbara, BirdLife Malta Conservation Manager. ‘Conservation status upgrades on both global and European level stresses the unsustainability of such practices. This once more highlights our concerns with the government’s policy of opening past spring hunting seasons, despite population declines and conservation efforts in Europe,’ he added.
Recently, 91 MEPs urged the European Commission to open a new case in the European Court of Justice on Malta’s spring hunting derogation, should the government ignore the new threatened conservation status of Turtle Dove.
In the 2015 Red List update, 40 bird species worldwide are now classified as having a higher risk of extinction than previously. These include many vulture species and many wading shorebirds. Amongst them are also the Northern Lapwing (Venewwa) and Eurasian Oystercatcher (Gallina tal-Bahar), both well-known wading birds concentrated in Europe that visit Malta on migration. Conversely, 23 species have been downgraded to lower threat categories due to conservation efforts and more accurate assessments.
The Red List is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the conservation status of plant and animal species, and BirdLife International is the official authority for birds. BirdLife International is the world’s largest nature conservation Partnership with 120 BirdLife Partners worldwide, including BirdLife Malta.