Cyprus Mail

Officials accused of pulling back on poaching clampdown

A bird rescuer cleaning the wing of a captured Blackcap

By Waylon Fairbanks

THE BI-ANNUAL Bird Protection Report released on Wednesday accused the authorities of hampering environmental groups’ efforts to document and prevent the illegal poaching of song birds.

The Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) and the Foundation Pro Biodiversity (SPA) conducted a study between April 5 and May 5 to collect data and enforce anti-poaching laws in joint operation with Cypriot police. However, political opposition, first from disgruntled hunters and later from the justice ministry, halted efforts to confiscate hunting traps, the report said.

“This capitulation to pressure by undemocratic and criminal elements epitomises environmental injustice and public disorder – the exact opposite of the mandate of the ministry,” the report said, in a scathing attack.

Opposition toward the conservationist effort developed from small demonstrations in Paralimni, as hunters and landowners accused activists of trespassing and destroying property. Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou addressed the grievances by issuing several statements condemning the activists’ alleged actions. The police’s anti-poaching squad were withdrawn during the last week of the study, severely limiting the work the conservationists could carry out.

“CABS and SPA reject out of hand the ill-founded and ludicrous accusations raised,” the report said, committing much of its length to disputing accusations.

The report monitored 356 trapping sites – 73 of which were newly established since the last report in autumn last year. Twenty-one poachers were also arrested for non-selective trapping or illegal possession of protected species.

While bird hunting is a regulated sport in Cyprus, the use of limesticks is illegal, as it indiscriminately kills migratory birds, some of which are protected species. Limesticks are adhesive-coated branches that stick to perched birds and keep them attached till they die.

The report said police confiscated 3,272 limesticks, although 440 located limesticks were unable to be removed, once the police withdrew. Poachers also rely on ‘mist’ nets hung between trees and electronic decoys to lure the birds.

Though widely condemned by environmental groups, song bird poaching contains a sizable lobby among both hunters and politicians alike. Groups like Friends of Limesticks claim that birdlime is a traditional method of hunting, and several politicians from Larnaca and Famagusta districts protect hunters’ interests.

Blackcaps, robins and other wild birds are harvested principally to sell to restaurants as ambelopoulia, the traditional Cypriot delicacy. The dish may be illegal to sell, but is widely available in restaurants.

The report speculated that hostility towards the enforcement of both European Union and Cypriot poaching laws is increasing due to the rises in anti-Europe sentiment.

While the justice minister did suspend police units, he also signalled that Cyprus would enforce its poaching laws albeit in a legal manner. The report made recommendations for stronger implementation, including ambushes on popular hunting grounds and larger court-imposed fines.

Bird poaching in Cyprus recently gained international attention after being the subject of an extensive essay by US novelist Jonathan Franzen in The New Yorker. His essay, “Emptying the Skies,” was reprinted worldwide and adapted into a documentary. In July’s issue of National Geographic, Franzen elaborated on the subject and its many variations around the Mediterranean Sea in “Last Song for Migrating Birds.”

Even with preventative laws in Cyprus, poachers killed hundreds of thousands of birds in 2012, with the figure possibly reaching two million, according to systematic studies by Birdlife Cyprus.

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