Just what is it about southern Europe that causes some of its typically generous, welcoming, and cultured citizens to act like throwbacks to the Stone Age? I only ask because over the last two weeks a number of items have appeared on the BirdLife International website reporting on the illegal trapping of songbirds in Cyprus. Headlines like “Migratory birds served in Cypriot restaurants” raised comparisons of the dire situation which faced migrant birds unfortunate to reach the blood-soaked archipelago of Malta.
Incidentally before any outraged Maltese mail me – again – saying that I don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a paragraph taken from the BirdLife Malta report “Springwatch 2008″ – The data presented in this report highlights the fact that illegal hunting was widespread in Malta, despite a ban on spring hunting in 2008. This can be seen both by the large number of illegal hunting incidents observed by BirdLife Malta Spring Watch teams over the course of the two and a half week period and the wide range of areas where these illegal activities occurred.” (http://www.birdlifemalta.org/photos/otherfiles/436.pdf)
However, BirdLife Malta also reports that “the ban on hunting after 15:00 in September proved remarkably successful at decreasing the number of shot protected species…This significant improvement shows that with time and effort things can and do change.”
That’s an encouraging message, so perhaps it’s time the world’s birdwatchers and avian welfare groups focussed on Cyprus because, remarkably, the slaughter of songbirds in Cyprus is on an even larger scale.
At just 9,250 sq km (of which 3,355 sq km are in north Cyprus), the island of Cyprus is very roughly 7% the size of England or New York State, would fit into Texas almost seventy times, and has a population of just under 800,000 (July 2008 estimate). They can’t all go hunting or bird trapping, but somehow between March 2008 and February 2009 a staggering 1.1 MILLION birds were shot, netted, or caught on limesticks in Cyprus.
That shocking figure comes from a Birdlife Cyprus report entitled “Cyprus bird trapping surveillance project: Winter 2008-09 report” which Martin Hellicar, Executive Director of BirdLife Cyprus, kindly sent me. A brief look at the ‘Conclusions & Recommendations’ section reveals the following disturbing/shocking/disgusting statistics:
BirdLife’s second season of winter trapping surveillance identified a sharp (around 60%) increase in netting activity compared to the previous winter. The rise in limestick use detected in the field is an additional reason for concern.
These increased levels of trapping activity led to an estimated 50% rise in the numbers of birds caught by trappers in the winter of 08/09 compared to the winter of 07/08. Some 66,000 birds are estimated to have died in nets and on limesticks during the winter past.
The toll of migrant and other birds over the 12-month period between March 2008 and February 2009 can be estimated at just over 1.1 million birds, which is similar to the death toll for the preceding 12 months.
- protect, manage and regulate all bird species naturally living in the wild within the European territory of the Member States, including the eggs of these birds, their nests and their habitats;
- regulate the exploitation of these species.
- conserve, maintain or restore the biotopes and habitats of these birds by:
- creating protection zones;
- maintaining the habitats;
- restoring destroyed biotopes;
- creating biotopes.
It is also prohibited:
- to deliberately kill or capture the bird species covered by the Directives. However, the Directives authorise the hunting of certain species on condition that the methods used comply with certain principles (wise use and balanced control, hunting outside the period of migration or reproduction, prohibition of large-scale or non-selective killing or catching methods);
- to destroy, damage or collect their nests and eggs;
- to disturb them deliberately;
- to detain them.
There are also rules defining which hunting methods are banned – e.g. non-selective hunting and trapping. It’s hard to see that Cyprus is honouring the agreements it signed when, for example, “Some 66,000 birds are estimated to have died [non-selectively] in nets and on limesticks during the winter past”.
I imagine there will be some readers who don’t know what a ‘lime-stick’ is (it’s hardly something you expect to come across these days). Well, imagine a stick covered in glue, and you’ve got it. While we’re at it, imagine being a small bird landing on a twig (the stick) only to find yourself hanging upside down, stuck fast no matter how hard you struggle, until some grinning oaf comes and literally rips you off the stick leaving little bits of you behind…sort of like the future awaiting these birds actually…
Photos copyright RSPB
And what happens to the majority of these birds? They’re killed and sold as snacks known locally as ambelopoulia. Despite it being illegal to sell ambelopoulia the banned ‘delicacies’ remain widely available, principally because of a supine government that either actively supports restaurateurs by turning a ‘blind eye’ or doesn’t think that birds are worth protecting so can’t be bothered to enforce the law. (Is there another reason? Why not mail me and let me know…)
In 2008 only 9 restaurateurs were charged for serving ambelopoulia, and Martin Hellicar says, “Bird trapping is coming back to haunt us in a big way and the reason is the same as it has always been: there is a lot of money to be made out of it, and it will continue as long as restaurants are allowed to break the law”.
Is Cyprus an impoverished, developing nation without supermarkets or food outlets, crippled by famine or lack of regular protein sources? Are some Cypriots so starved that they need to feast on the 5gm of meat the average Blackcap will provide?
Of course not. This is another shameful example of ‘culture’ being used as an excuse for cruelty. Of well-fed people who couldn’t give a damn about Europe’s bio-diversity despite being happy to share in the region’s wealth.
Is there anything we can do about this slaughter?
Here’s an interesting fact: For the period January – February 2009 revenue from tourism is estimated to have been worth EUR 67.5 mln/USD 85.25 mln. Tourism is hugely important to the Cypriot economy, and in fact increasing numbers of birders go to Cyprus during the main migration periods. Is it legitimate to ask what they do while they’re there to help stop the mass killing of the very birds they’ve gone to see? I think so, and the answer has to be ‘Not a lot’ judging by the increase in hunting and trapping recorded by BirdLife Cyprus…
Would boycotting Cyprus for a year nudge the government into respecting the rules of the EU? No, It probably wouldn’t. One or two birders NOT being somewhere isn’t going to have any impact while general tourism remains strong. Would going somewhere else and emailing the government to explain that it’s their shockingly lax attitude to protecting migrants that made your decision be any help? Perhaps, but better surely to see for yourself what’s going on, and then shout about it from the rooftops so that everyone else can hear. Conservation organisations generally prefer that approach and it’s easy to understand why – they would argue that it’s better to go there and see this stuff with your own eyes, report it to the police, and make your presence felt – but you do have to wonder what those of us who can’t get to these places are supposed to do…
1.1 MILLION birds killed in twelve months in an area the size of a large postage-stamp. At the very least shouldn’t we be offering support to local conservation groups, like BirdLife Cyprus, who are doing everything they can to protect the birds that we all claim to love so much? Let’s face it, if WE can’t be roused enough to do something then why should the Cypriots?
1.1 MILLION birds killed in twelve months…come on folks, that simply can not be allowed to happen again.
All photographs copyright of the RSPB or BirdLife Cyprus and used with permission
BirdLife Cyprus is a registered non-governmental organization (NGO) that dedicates itself to the conservation of wild birds and their habitats in Cyprus. It was formed in 2003 through the merger of the two Cyprus Ornithological Societies and now has offices in Strakka, Nicosia.
BirdLife Cyprus is the Cyprus representative of BirdLife International – a globally active conservation organization that operates in over 100 countries and territories worldwide and is the recognized global authority on birds.
BirdLife Cyprus aims to promote the study and protection of the birds of Cyprus and their habitats, and to enable the citizens of Cyprus and other countries to play their part in achieving this goal.
The organization runs a number of campaigns and monitoring projects to ensure it can fight against activities that threaten wild birds, such as illegal hunting and trapping, and the destruction and degradation of habitats, with a particular focus on Important Bird Areas (IBAs).