GPS tags document curlew poaching in France


A new study has provided evidence of the timing and location of the illegal killing of Eurasian Curlews in France.

Eurasian Curlew has been declining across its global range in recent years and is now classified as Near Threatened. In order to better understand what is happening to Europe's curlews, as well as improve knowledge of its ecological requirements and the threats the birds face, several research teams have recently invested in the capture, colour-ringing and GPS-tracking of the species across the continent.

More than 100 birds have been equipped with GPS-tracking devices in recent years, providing precise information on the birds' locations. And, as the study shows, this data has proved highly valuable in identifying several poaching cases that occurred in coastal France in August 2022.

Eurasian Curlew is protected in Europe, yet proof of illegal killing in France in 2022 has been presented in the new study (Christopher Bell).

Eurasian Curlew breeds in grasslands or moorlands then migrates to traditional wintering sites, foraging on large estuaries and mudflats at low tide, flocking in coastal marshes at high tide. The European population is estimated at 212,000-292,000 pairs but is declining and the species is protected under EU law.

Hunting of curlews had ended in all but one EU Member States by 2012, with Denmark, the UK and Ireland being the most recent nations to relinquish the right to shoot the species. Between 2012 and 2019, France remained the only European country to allow the hunting of curlews, with an approximate annual bag of 7,000 individuals. But, in summer 2020, an annual decree fixed the hunting quota to zero – something that has continued in subsequent years, effectively illegalising the hunting of the species in France since then.

Despite this, illegal killing of Eurasian Curlews continues in France. In total, the study presented evidence for the poaching of four different birds, these originating in Germany and Belgium. Three of the GPS tags provided tracks that ended up in a house, while the corpse of a fourth individual was retrieved in the field and an x-ray revealed the presence of ammunition in the bird's body as well as a broken wing.

For comparison, the researchers also presented data from GPS tags which were retrieved from other birds where the tag had either fallen off or the curlew had been naturally predated.

The team highlights that illegal hunting of Eurasian Curlew remains a problem which must be addressed. The hunting season commenced on 6 August 2022 and three of the four poached curlews were shot during its opening three days. The paper concluded: "We must recommend to improve education and awareness towards hunters concerning hunting bans and the potential deleterious effects of such an illegal shooting, intentional or not, on population dynamics of an endangered species."



Jiguet, F, Bocher, F, Bourgeois, A, & 14 others. 2023. Multi-sensor data loggers identify the location and timing in four poaching cases of the endangered Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquataForensic Science International: Animals and Environments. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fsiae.2023.100069

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