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Illegal hunting at the Strait of Messina, Italy

Illegal poaching of raptors such as the European honey buzzard was a serious threat to migrating birds of prey until Anna Giordano began anti-poaching activism and vigilance camps cutting down bird shootings from 5,000 annually to less than 200.


The Strait of Messina, which separates Sicily from the Italian mainland, is a critical point of convergence for many birds’ migration routes. However, this also makes it one of Europe’s worst “black spots” for illegal poaching, especially for raptors such as the European Honey Buzzard. Birds of prey are killed for meat or for the illegal exotic animal trade, and sport hunting especially has had a long history there, and for generations, as many as 5,000 honey buzzards were killed yearly despite hunting bans [2][6][7]. This is because of a widespread local superstition in Sicilian and Calabrian macho culture that men who do not kill at least one honey buzzard per year would be cuckolded [3]. Yet because the practice is also very profitable, in contemporary times it has become a low-risk high-reward crime that many people use to make a lot of quick cash, from small-scale hobbyists to families looking for extra income to large criminal organizations [10]. The ‘Ndrangheta, a prominent Calabrian mafia group, also scores huge profits from illegal gun trade to the small villages around the strait [7].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Illegal hunting at the Strait of Messina, Italy
State or province:Messina
Location of conflict:Messina
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Other
Specific commodities:Live Animals
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Every spring, anywhere between 300 to over 2,000 poachers would wait for birds of prey in about 50 concrete bunkers built on the coastline of Messina. More than 10,000 also hunted for other birds such as quails, doves, and swallows. There were also about 30 hideouts made of stone along the route. In every bunker or hideout there could be 10-12 people with 4-5 guns. Some bunkers could be rented to poachers for $1,000 to $7,000 per 15 days or month. During windy conditions, poachers used to also shoot from the street or from houses in the villages when raptors flew low over urban areas owing to the strong power of the winds. Many good poachers could shoot 20-30 each in one day [9].

Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:15/07/1981
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Italian League for the Protection of Birds (LIPU)
World Wildlife Fund Italy
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Proposal and development of alternatives:Giordano has advocated for switching to birdwatching-centric ecotourism to make up for the economic attractiveness of poaching
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Although there are still a few poachers left, the poaching problem has been seriously cut down and is now seen as a legitimate, positive cause. There was also a brief period of time where it was thought that there were no more poachers left.
Sources & Materials

[4] PBS. Anna Giordano (2004)
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[10] National Geographic. Italy and Malta are hotbeds of songbird poaching. (Civillini 2019)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA, [email protected]
Last update16/03/2020
Conflict ID:4989
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