Europe and Central Asia
10 Mar 2015

Another killing season in Cyprus?

Fan-tailed warbler trapped in glue (BirdLife Cyprus)
By Lisa Benedetti

If what was seen during the 2014 autumn in Cyprus is any indication, most birds passing through will have little chance against the 16 km of mist nets and more than 6,000 limesticks they could face.

Both these trapping methods are illegal at national and European levels. They are non-selective and inhumane, with unsuspecting birds often lured by electronic bird calls, whose wings and legs then become helplessly entangled. Some victims are trapped and struggling for hours before dying either of exhaustion or at the hands of their killers (including with a tooth pick to the throat).

Over 2 million birds were killed illegally in the autumn of 2014 alone says BirdLife Cyprus, (over the entire year, 2.5 million are illegally killed). Of the 152 bird species that have been found trapped on the island, 78 are considered threatened, including species such as the Common Nightingale and Eurasian Scops-owl. These numbers show that the situation is out of control in both the Republic of Cyprus and the UK sovereign base areas (SBA), areas that are under the jurisdiction of the UK.

In the Republic of Cyprus, the use of mist nets and limesticks has been forbidden since 1974. Legislation here also forbids the trade and/or possession of trapped birds, either in restaurants or in homes. But still, locals and visitors can go to some restaurants and order ambelopoulia. This ‘traditional’ dish is basically a songbird that has been grilled, pickled or boiled. But it is no longer a tradition when a practice becomes industrial scale and linked to organised crime.

In late 2014, the SBA Administration made some effort and began acacia removal in Cape Pyla, an area that is a mist netting hotspot. Trappers have been planting and watering Acacia saligna, an invasive and alien species, in this area for a number of years for the sole purpose of attracting birds for illegal trapping. Continuing the removal of acacia by the SBA Administration is a key action that BirdLife Cyprus fully supports to tackle the illegal trapping problem at its root.

According to Dr Tim Stowe, International Director of RSPB, (BirdLife in the UK): “Such extensive illegal activity requires all the Cyprus authorities to work together to combat it, and the Base Areas’ contribution should be zero-tolerance towards illegal bird trapping. We were pleased that the Base Area authorities have started to remove acacia scrub last December.”

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BirdLife Cyprus has also initiated a Strategic Action Plan involving all stakeholders to combat these illegal practices in a structured way, including educational activities and awareness-raising. The plan has yet to be adopted by the Republic of Cyprus, while in the SBA, despite adoption of the plan, mist netting was at record levels in autumn 2014. To be effective, the plan must be immediately adopted and involve all key parties so that progress can be achieved with its implementation.

Illegal bird trapping is giving the otherwise beautiful country of Cyprus a negative international reputation. It is a practice that does not make economic sense when considering that the losses in tourism revenue range between 40-100 million euros each year; as shown in a study conducted in 2011 by Terra Cypria (an environmental NGO in Cyprus). In comparison, ‘black market’ criminal revenues, as estimated by the Cyprus Game and Fauna Service, are only about 15 million euros. In a time where budgets are tight across Europe, it is in the long-term economic interest of all Cypriots to stand together against this crime.

Please get involved in the next Champions of the Flyway Race on 25th March 2015, where all donations raised will be given to BirdLife Cyprus to help them in their battle against the overwhelming scale of the illegal bird killing and trapping that occurs on this small Mediterranean island.

For more information about this issue, please contact Natalie Stylianou, Media Officer, BirdLife Cyprus: natalie.stylianou@birdlifecyprus.org.cy

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