Tens of millions of birds are illegally killed each year across the Mediterranean, with Cyprus’ Famagusta area being the worst location, according to the first scientific review of its kind carried out in the region by BirdLife International
“This review shows the gruesome extent to which birds are being killed illegally in the Mediterranean,” BirdLife International CEO, Patricia Zurita, said. “Populations of some species that were once abundant in Europe are declining, with a number even in free-fall and disappearing altogether.”
The review includes a list of the 10 countries with the highest mean number of birds being illegally killed annually, a BirdLife Cyprus press release said.
“Although countries currently hit by conflict, such as Syria and Libya, feature high in the rankings, some European nations also fare poorly,” the organisation said. “Italy (where 5.6 million birds are estimated to be killed illegally annually) is second only to Egypt in the estimated mean number of illegal killings each year, with the Famagusta area in Cyprus the single worst location in the Mediterranean.”
Cape Pyla was not too far behind.
Dubbed a “Trapper’s Treasure Island” by the conservationists, Cyprus is a key stopover location for many migratory birds on their route across the sea.
Birds tend to concentrate in particular parts of the island when leaving or arriving on migration, making things easier for those engaged in illegal killing.
An estimated (mean) 689,000 birds are killed in the Famagusta area, 574,000 in Dhekelia, and 345,000 in Ayios Theodoros (Larnaca district), according to the survey.
The estimated mean number of illegal bird killings in Cyprus annually was 2.3 million, according to BirdLife.
That figure translates into 248 birds killed per square kilometre or 196 birds for every 100 people.
“The findings of this scientific report clearly show the urgent necessity for the adoption of the Strategic Action Plan to tackle the illegal trapping of birds in Cyprus, without any derogation, and a consistent zero tolerance policy,” BirdLife Cyprus Executive Director, Dr Clairie Papazoglou, said.
Laws banning trapping have been in place for decades these are frequently flouted.
Despite the bad name Cyprus has gained over the years, politicians, in particular those hailing from the Famagusta area, have openly supported trapping, claiming it is a tradition.
Audio equipment is used, illegally, to broadcast birdsong and attract birds to trapping locations where nets are used to trap large numbers of birds.
Many birds are illegally sold as ambelopoulia delicacies, which fetch hundreds of thousands of euros for the trappers.
In particular, Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla), Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos), Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) and Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita).
Species that are not wanted are caught in the same traps, and are incidentally injured, discarded or killed.
Other European countries featuring in the top 10 are Greece — mean estimate of 0.7 million birds killed each year, France, 0.5 million, Croatia, 0.5 million, and Albania, 0.3 million.
Despite not ranking in the top 10 overall, Malta, where 108,000 birds are estimated to be killed illegally each year, is still seeing the region’s highest figure for the estimated number of birds illegally killed per square kilometre.
The review also exposes some of the cruel methods of killing used across the Med, including illegal shooting, trapping in nets, gluing to branches, and the use of recordings of bird sounds to lure different species to trapping locations.
The report estimates that Eurasian Chaffinch tops the ‘kill list’ — an estimated 2.9 million are killed each year – with the Eurasian Blackcap, 1.8 million, Common Quail, 1.6 million, and Song Thrush, 1.2 million, making up the rest of the top four.
A number of species, such as Eurasian Curlew, already listed as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List are also in danger.
The data in this review previews a scientific paper due out at a later date giving a full assessment of the situation in the Mediterranean.