Italian hunters are part of the story.(Reuters/Max Rossi)

Italian hunters are part of the story. (Reuters/Max Rossi)

Of the five billion birds that migrate through Europe each spring, up to one billion are shot, the majority of them by hunters in Malta, Cyprus, Italy and, particularly, the Balkans. As European Union legislation has clamped down on the killing of threatened and endangered species in Italy, a large and lucrative tourist trade has sprung up where predominately Italian hunters pay up to €100,000 a trip to shoot birds from the unregulated skies of Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia.

Until 2014, Albania was another favorite destination for these poaching trips. But then the country’s ruling coalition, spurred either by an enlightened approach to its fauna or economic necessity—depending on whom you listen to—became the first national government ever to declare a total ban on hunting.

Now, two years later, the interdiction is about to come to an end. Environmental groups and hunting organizations are locked in talks with the government, with suggestions the ban may be extended for five more years.

The prohibition has not been an unequivocal success. In the first year of the ban, our researchers observed a dramatic decline in hunting. But with the passing of time, the authorities have relaxed their control. At present, the situation is back to being as bad as it ever was, perhaps worse. Hunting has become a form of dissent, a way of people showing their dissatisfaction with the government.

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