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2016 Whitley Award
Alexander Rukhaia Georgia Terrestrial
Safeguarding birds of prey: negotiating the Batumi flyway

Winner of the Whitley Award donated by the Garfield Weston Foundation


Along the mountainous Black Sea coast in the Ajara region of Georgia lies one of the biggest bottlenecks in the world for raptor migration. Recognised as an Important Bird Area and a hotspot for birdwatchers, the Batumi Bottleneck is the most vital flyway in the Western Palearctic, with more than one million birds of prey passing through the region.



Although illegal, the tradition of shooting raptors has long been prevalent in the coastal communities of Ajara. During the migration, there is a mass indiscriminate killing of birds, with up to 18,000 raptors shot for food and leisure. Limited understanding of hunting regulations and a lack of conservation awareness have ensured it remains a respected family activity. Efforts to enforce hunting legislation are minimal, which only exacerbates the issue.



As a policy science graduate, it was only once Alexander volunteered to count migrating birds that he saw the killing firsthand and realised he had to do something. Now Founder and Director of Society for Nature Conservation (SABUKO), Alexander has adopted a holistic approach to put an end to this tradition. Working with authorities and local communities, he is disseminating information about hunting regulations, conducting educational activities and building local capacity to support the development of bird watching tourism. His efforts have already seen an 80% reduction in the number of birds killed in two villages since 2010.

USE Hunting_Preasure_3
Hunted eagles; Photo: Bert Willaert

Alexander aims to: 

  • Expand the project to six additional hunting villages.
  • Increase local awareness of hunting regulations and mobilise government support to enforce them.
  • Draw attention to the situation at the local, national and international level and continue to monitor raptor killings to measure project impact on hunting levels.
  • Engage communities with conservation and support development of bird watching tourism.

Why it matters:

  • At least 35 raptor species have been observed at the Batumi bottleneck.
  • Over 100 raptors are shot daily during their migration.
  • Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and political unrest in Georgia, unemployment within Ajara remains high so ecotourism will help generate much needed income.

“Our approach delivers a win-win situation for people and raptors.”