At least three sociable lapwings, a critically endangered species, were shot and killed last week in Kuwait. Ian Fisher at RSPB, a leading UK bird protection group, confirmed the report on Monday. It was the first time that hunters were documented to have killed the rare birds in that country.
However, the rumors were already flying. Late last week, a distressing photo by an unnamed photographer made the rounds of social media, including Twitter and Facebook. In addition to the three dead lapwings (also known as plovers), the hunters reportedly killed 120 Caspian Plovers and "hundreds" of an unnamed lark species.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has listed the sociable lapwing, Vanellus gregarius, as critically endangered since 2004.
The population winters in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent and migrates into Kazakhstan and south-central Russia to breed. The birds shot in Kuwait would have been in the process of returning to their breeding territories.
The population has crashed, and the cause of the bird's sudden decline is poorly understood. Northern Kazakhstan lost 40 percent of its population from 1930 to 1960, and the population dropped in half again between 1960 and 1987. At one point, there were only a few hundred known birds remaining. The Ukraine's breeding population is extinct.
It was already known that the birds are a target for hunters as they pass through Syria, but loss of habitat to agriculture is another culprit in the decline of the species.
Bird Life International, a bird preservation organization, has initiated a radio transmitter program to allow them to track and study the sociable lapwings on their migrations. One bird has already led them to a stop-over site in Turkey that held a flock of 3,200 -- multiplying the previously known population by ten times.
You can see a video of one sociable lapwing being fitted with its transmitter here: