Militiamen after a hunt. Photo shared by the Libyan Wildlife Trust, which blurred the mens' faces.
Gazelle poaching, which was relatively under control during former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s reign, is now reaching alarming proportions, according to environmental activists in Libya.
After Gaddafi was overthrown in October 2011, armed combatants were tasked with ensuring security in the country. Today, the government is having trouble controlling many of these militias. Libyan environmental organisations say that this climate of impunity has led to a surge in poaching in several regions of Libya, notably in the south.
According to our Observers, gazelle hunting was restricted during Gaddafi’s era – that is, for most people. The authorities regularly carried out campaigns to confiscate weapons from hunters in the south of the country, but Gaddafi would grant exemptions to visiting dignitaries from Gulf countries who liked to hunt in the region of Sabha, in the southwest of Libya.
This undated video shows Libyan militiamen on a hunt. The video was reportedly filmed in the region of Rajdan,
near the border with Algeria. The car is decorated with Libya’s post-revolution flag.
"They didn’t seem to realise that they had just carried out a massacre"
Al Zidani (not his real name) lives in the region of Sabha, in the Libyan Sahara desert.
They hunt just for fun. I live in southern Libya, and I never see any gazelles being sold in the markets. I have heard that some hunters eat certain parts of the animal, but that’s not really the point. The point is the hunt itself.
Photo posted on the Facebook page of the Libyan Wildlife Trust,
which says the photo was taken on April 13, 2012 in Oued Chati, in the region of Sebha.
I met poachers a couple months ago while driving in the desert. I noticed a 4x4 parked at the foot of a mountain, and stopped to see what was going on. It was a horrid scene: young men had spread out gazelle corpses on a boulder, and were boasting about their prowess. They didn’t seem to realise that they had in fact just carried out a massacre. My friend and I did not dare tell them this – we didn’t want to upset them, since they were all armed.
Undated photo, taken in southern Libya near the border with Niger,
according to the Libyan Wildlife Trust.
Unfortunately, this kind of scene has become almost commonplace in southern Libya. A few months after the revolution, people started pouring in from different regions of the country to hunt here. Many are militiamen, but there are also just people who own 4x4s and guns. [Since the war, firearms have proliferated in Libya]. The situation has slightly improved since the army has deployed troops in the region [in mid-December, the authorities declared the south a “closed military zone” for security reasons] But that hasn’t been enough to stop the killings.
"Poaching needs to be banned for at least a decade" Ahmed al-Kich is a member of the Libyan Wildlife Trust.
The laws regulating gazelle hunting were written back during the days of the kingdom of Libya (1951-1969). They’ve never been updated since – not even to change the amount of the fines, which are ridiculously low. [According to these laws, hunters need to obtain a special permit to kill gazelles, and are only allowed to kill two per year.] Moreover, the state is not strong enough today to enforce these laws.
In certain cases, killing gazelles can help ensure a balanced fauna, so we’re not categorically against it. However, in the current state of affairs, the practice needs to be banned for at least a decade in order to let the species reproduce.
Undated photo, taken in the south near the border with Niger,
according to the Libyan Wildlife Trust.
We lack funding to carry out full-scale investigations, so we don’t have statistics on how many gazelles have been killed. However, from our observations, we believe three types of gazelles are particularly at risk of disappearing from Libya: the Oueddan gazelle, which lives chiefly in the Haruj mountains [in central Libya], and the Rhim and Dorcas gazelles that live in the south.
For the past few months, we’ve been travelling the country trying to convince people that poaching needs to be stopped urgently. We have tried to make contact with militias with the idea of educating them about this problem, but it’s very difficult to engage them in conversation. We recently met with militias in Zintan [200 kilometres south of Tripoli]. They were very welcoming, but we’re not certain that our message got through. [For security reasons, our Observer preferred not to name the militias in question]. We also met with tribes in the south, because hunting is an old tradition for them.
Hunting trophies. Photo posted on the Facebook page of the Libyan Wildlife Trust.
We’ve had several meetings with the Libyan assembly. We’re working with an environmental commission in the hope of introducing solid laws that will protect this species into the new constitution they’re working on. However, I get the feeling this is not one of the government’s priorities.