Not to end up saying, once upon a time there was…
A country with a rich flora and fauna, but very little was known about the diversity and peculiarities it offers. This is Albania, which can be considered as one of the only shelters of large mammals in Europe, where the majority of them have become instinct. However, the lack of reserves to protect these mammals, together with their illegal hunting, could lead to their extinction in the land of the Alps known for eagles. Low economic development over the years, lack of state attention, climatic factors, but especially human pressure, are considered the main enemies in eradicating or minimizing the diversity in flora and fauna. Sometime in the past, there were more birds in the cities, whereas in the mountainous areas, along deer and wild goat, there were many wild fowls like eagles, owls, falcons.
Today they are fewer in number, not to say that their risk of extinction is evident. In the past Albania was known as the land of Koran, a rare fish that grows in Ohrid Lake (Pogradec), while today even this type of fish is going towards extinction. And this is an alert if we consider that in a country with a total surface of 28 thousand square meters, there are found approximately 84 species of mammals, 320 species of birds, 37 species of reptiles, 15 species of amphibians, 313 species of fish and 3850 species of insects, 900 of whom butterflies. Rare large mammals such as the bear, wolf, lynx, which are missing in greatest part of Europe, are found in Albania (though their number is declining in years). But the question that arises now is: how long will we be able to boast of their existence?
The Ministry of Environment proposed a moratorium to ban hunting for two years, a period long enough, according to Diana Bejko, the Deputy Minister, for the renewal of their populations and habitats. “This is a drastic measure, but necessary and appropriate, in order to prevent further loss of populations of species of wild fauna, already in a critical minimum, and to facilitate the establishment of control over the activity of hunting, due to the critical situation of populations of wild fauna during the last two decades, as a result of uncontrolled hunting,” Lefter Koka, the Minister of Environment said.
But on the other hand, this is a warning that can be made at the right time to educate everyone, so that tomorrow none of us ends up using the phrase “once upon a time, there was a country where one could see eagles flying on its mountains and where rare mammals were found, or where migratory birds found shelter.
As elsewhere in the world, the leading devastating factors of fauna and flora are the climate conditions and human hand. But in Albania, it takes more weight due to the fact that state policies for the protection of rare species have not been implemented. Water pollution, intensive use of natural resources such as land use, its occupation by construction, uncontrolled forest exploitation and the irresponsible hunting and fishing have been and remain evident factors for destruction of an asset that we could have been proud of. Forest fires and floods, or prolonged droughts have also a negative impact. But, some of the main factors that have led to serious destruction of wild fauna in recent years are the increasing number of hunting weapons. According to the Ministry of Environment, the number of hunting guns today that are authorized by law enforcement agencies amounts to about 75 thousand, whereas there were only 12 thousand before the ‘90s. Hunters’ Federation and Associations have about 17 thousand members, while in recent years hunting license was issued to about five thousand hunters.
Another factor that has contributed to this situation is the clandestine entrance of a significant number of foreign hunters, using all forms and means to inflict mass destruction of wild fauna. Similarly, small-scale enforcement of fines imposed for illegal hunting has contributed to this situation. The data show that Forest Police has fined in the last 3 years an average of 70 hunters per year for illegal hunting and executed about 4% of the fines.
Despite the global promise to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss significantly and a European commitment to stop it completely, its contraction continues. Maybe we are among the few countries where reserves, even for tourism purposes, do not exist. This indicates that state attention over the years for the protection of fauna and flora did not exist or has been minimal. “Inefficient effort made by state institutions responsible for law enforcement as the State Police, the Tax Office and the Customs to control the trade and export of leather and animals hunted in Albania have contributed to the situation.
“Use of mass extermination means prohibited by law as light, simulator, traps, etc., but also the still low social awareness on environmental values of nature, in general, and of wild fauna, in particular, are contributing factors to this situation”, specialists say. Also, demographic changes, especially at the beginning of the transition period, without consideration of environmental components that have brought fragmentation, habitat destruction, intimidation of local or migratory populations are among the serious destruction factors of wild fauna. The alarm occasionally given over the years by environmentalists doesn’t seem enough, when you notice that everything done is only words and there are very few cases or almost none when there are action plans or concrete projects implemented.
Wild Fauna Status
The data presented in various studies, Reports on Environment and those prepared by the Department of Forests and Biodiversity for a period of about 10 years (2001-2011) show a declining condition of many populations of species of wild fauna. According to these studies, the three native species subject to hunting, such as wild rabbit, fox and mountain partridge, there is a decrease of 30% up to over 50%. There is also a significant decline of populations of the protected species. Thus, the drop for wild goat was 44% in the years 2001-2011, 32% for the fox, 54%for the wild type rabbit, 100%for the Pheasant, 67% for the mountain partridge and 68% for the lowland partridge. For the globally threatened species, the alarm is just so high. The Balkan lynx, jackal, or even brown bear, etc., are classified as animals that deserve special care and attention. The brown bear is one of the most valuable elements of Albanian biodiversity; it is playing a role for the protection of biodiversity. However, this species is threatened primarily by human activity. “While bears and humans inhabit the same space, it is necessary to ensure coexistence between them. Where this is lacking, the natural habitats of bears are destroyed and they disappear “, environmentalists say.
It is thought that the brown bear population in the country has declined sharply in the late ‘80s. Balkan lynx, which represents the smallest and less known indigenous population to Europe, is currently located in four countries of the Balkan region, Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo. Therefore, the implementation of the action plan for lynx needs to be coordinated at a broader level. Recommended protective measures are preservation and recovery of high mountain ecosystems and old virgin mixed forests that are vital sources to the survival of the lynx, but also ban of killed &stuffed lynx trade, support of appropriate development in mountainous areas, rehabilitation of natural prey and protection of habitats where the species grows, etc. But it is not known when,these measures recommended in the action plan drafted long ago, will be implemented and when tourists will be able to visit nature reserves with this rare species.
Balkan lynx, little known and studied, had a decline, which comprised a loss of 60% of its territory of habitation between 1950 and 2006. This illustrates speed of extinction of species. In 1950, based on data, it was believed that there were about 86 individuals in the country and only 28 in 2006.
Albania is also the habitat of many species of fowls that are considered protected species, but even in this direction, things leaves much to be desired. Cormorant, a small fowl, the species strictly protected in Albania and globally threatened, is listed in several international conventions as a species of special importance. Even as such, disturbance from man, especially during nesting season, continues to be a present threatening factor.
This type is found in Albanian wetlands throughout the year, whereas the largest number is observed in winter with 900-3000individuals. But the colonies that existed in the past in Albania are displaced in neighboring countries. Today the small cormorants, seen during nesting season, fall more on individuals who use Albania as the country of their food, while nesters are displaced in Montenegro (Shkodra Lake or Buna River), or Prespa Lake in Greece. According to a report in 1998, this type of species is no longer nesting in Albania, while research in 2004 showed that species may still nest on Shkodra Lake with some 25 nesting pairs. Former colonies have all been within protected areas as reservoir of Velipoja and that of Kune-Vain. The Divjakë-Karavasta complex in the Western Lowland of the country continues to be one of the most important areas for waterfowl, although the bulk of it is subject to negative interference of human activity.
For about 10 years now, Prof.Dr.Idriz Haxhiu explores Albanian fauna and along with other environmentalists conducts intensive bio-ecological studies on apopulation of marine turtles in the Gulfof Rodon. Marine turtles are represented by a large number of individuals of Caretta Caretta species and very few individuals of CheloniaMydasspecies, which are marked by a special program for Albania. The great presence of marine turtle in Albania is a case with significant scientific value to the long pilgrimage of this individual. In the recent years, pilgrimage of turtles from other countries to the shores of our country has been increasing, which is related to the climatic conditions. The great presence of crabs and jellyfish should be related with the breaking of natural balances in the Gulf of Rodon, which has to do with the high level of organic pollution in this area caused by flows, especially those of Ishëm River – environmentalists claim. But to protect this rare species, according to them, education of people, especially fishermen, who many times damage them, is indispensable.
The same is happening with Koran (a type of Trout), the characteristic species of Ohrid Lake, which economically is very important to the area. Koran is the fish of very clean water and this is the main condition for raising it. But inappropriate fishing, negative factor in disrupting the natural equilibrium of the lake, has led to the disappearance of the Koran, the rare endemic species to the region. Koran is being hunted even during its breeding time, which is disastrous for the species. After 1992, hundreds of fishermen are fishing in the city area of the lake, in Hudënishtit and the area of Lin, in many cases with no license and no criteria. For several years, the Fisheries Inspectorate banned fishing in Ohrid Lake during spawning (December to March), while for the protection and conservation of the biodiversity ecosystem of Ohrid Lake, a project funded by the World Bank is being implemented.
Are conventions enough?
“To curb the threat to flora and fauna species, some measures are taken. Albania is already a party to the Convention on Biodiversity, and has also a comprehensive legal package in the field of nature and biodiversity, which is aligned with the European legislation, particularly with the directives of habitats and wild fowls”, the Albanian Ministry of Environment notes.
The country has developed a series of laws to protect flora and fauna and it has been assessed for the drafting of legislation. But is drafting a good law sufficient, when its enforcement is at minimum limits in the best case? Practices and facts indicate that today laws or conventions on paper are very far from reality.
Now flora and fauna need to be saved, so that tomorrow none of us feels guilty for the destruction of an asset that may very well be considered as a source of development for tourism, both, in the mountain or at the sea.