Hunting tourists kill thousands of doves in Morocco

For the past week, Moroccan social media sites have been abuzz with grisly photos of around a dozen men posing with hundreds of turtledove carcasses. The hunters – tourists from the Gulf States – largely surpassed hunting quotas established under Moroccan law. They are far from the only hunters to do so.

These photos were originally posted by a Saudi hunter on his private Instagram account.

The first photo, which was posted on August 9, shows 11 men posing behind what looks to be hundreds of dead turtledoves. In his post, the hunter claims that the group killed 1,490 turtledoves in one day and thanks Extreme Hunters, the agency that organised the trip. Extreme Hunters is a Kuwait-based company that organises hunting trips t different countries in partnership with local travel agencies.

A Saudi hunter posted this photo on his Instagram account on August 9.

On August 11, the Saudi hunter posted another photo of five men.

A Saudi hunter posted this photo on Instagram on August 11.

A few days later, Moroccan animal rights groups picked up on another video that also showed hundreds of dead birds– this one posted by Extreme Hunters on its Instagram page. The man filming the video, who appears in the footage on several occasions, also appeared in the photo posted on August 9.

"This morning’s haul – 1,490 turtledoves! God bless you!" – someone says in the video.

This video, about sustainable development and conservation, was posted on August 16 on the Moroccan National Hunting Association’s Facebook page.


Fifty turtledoves per hunter per day

Turtledoves migrate between Africa and Europe, via North Africa. In Morocco, the hunting season only runs from June to August and tourists can only hunt if they go through a hunting travel agency that’s certified by the High Commission of Water and Forests (which is part of the Ministry of Agriculture, Maritime Fishing, Rural Development and Water and Forests.) Very often, the tourists will cook and feast on these same turtledoves when the hunting party finishes.

By law, a hunter can only kill 50 turtledoves per day. If the Saudi hunter’s group killed 1,490 birds in a day, as his post claims, at least 30 hunters would have thus needed to take part for the haul to be legal.

When the FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to the Saudi hunter who first posted these images on Instagram, he said that his hunting party did have that many hunters.

There were 32 of us hunters. We were signed up with a travel agency, as stipulated by Moroccan law. None of us killed more than 50 birds. Even so, I was swamped with hate messages on my Instagram account and on my cell phone. This has gotten out of hand.

Broken laws

However, this same hunter appeared in an Instagram story posted by Extreme Hunters. When the person filming the video asks the hunter to kill another turtledove, he exclaims: “I just killed another one, that makes 245 in total!”

These videos were posted as stories on the Extreme Hunters Instagram account.

The more videos you watch on the Extreme Hunters Instagram page, the harder it becomes to believe that the hunters were respecting the rules. In one video, a hunter lists how many turtledoves his group has killed: “Four shooters and 820 turtledoves. Oh wait, no! 887!" In another Instagram story, three hunters from Qatar exclaim, “285 turtledoves and three shooters!”

The Extreme Hunters posted these videos as Instagram stories.
 

The Extreme Hunters posted these videos as Instagram stories.

One of the promotional images used by Extreme Hunters promises that each hunter will get 500 rounds for a six-day trip.

 



'An employee admitted to me that they had to hide some of the carcases in case they were searched'

Ayoub Mahfoud is a member of an organisation that brings together different hunting associations from around the country (the Coordination nationale des associations de chasse au Maroc), which is leading a fight against the practices of hunting travel agencies.

It was a real massacre. After it happened, I pretended to be a customer and contacted the Moroccan agency Chassamir, which was responsible for organising that particular expedition for Extreme Hunters.

One of the employees told me that a group of tourists from the Gulf, who had arrived two weeks beforehand, were exceeding the hunting quotas and that he had never seen such excesses before.

For example, on Monday, August 19, seven of these hunters killed 1,250 turtledoves. This employee admitted that they had to hide some of the carcasses in bags just in case they were searched. I recorded this conversation and I’m ready to use it when the time is right [Editor’s note: The FRANCE 24 Observers team was able to listen to this recording].

'We want better government oversight on these hunting parties'

It’s the travel agency that’s responsible for what happened. And this is far from an isolated incident. The High Commission of Water and Forests gives out specific licences to agencies, which requires them to monitor the tourists that use their agency and to call the police in case of infractions. We want better government oversight for these hunting parties.

The High Commission of Water and Forests opened an investigation into the incident. If we aren’t satisfied by these results, then we will seek out justice ourselves. Greedy tourists should not win over conservation and biodiversity in Morocco.

The Moroccan government is currently seeking to develop hunting tourism with an aim of increasing from 3,000 to 15,000 tourists a year by 2024.

The FRANCE 24 Observers team reached out to the High Commission of Water and Forests, but had received no response by the time of the article's publication.

Article by Syrine Attia (@Syrine_Attia)