By Poly Pantelides
CYPRUS may be losing millions of euros in tourism revenues every year because of the negative publicity from the state’s tolerance of illegal bird trapping, the cruelty of which has resulted in thousands of complaints to authorities, a conservation organisation has said.
A Terra Cypria study said 5,200 people from 81 countries wrote to Cypriot authorities in 2010 – when New Yorker magazine reported on illegal bird trapping on the island – to say they would not be visiting the island because of the practice.
Of those, 3,900 hailed from countries that traditionally visit Cyprus. Using Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) figures on how much those people would have spent on their visit, the direct loss of revenue was estimated at €4 million. As a rule of thumb, Terra Cypria said that the CTO assumes that for every person bothering to write, ten others did not, raising the loss of potential revenue to an estimated €41 million.
The illegal trapping market is worth some €12 million a year.
BirdLife Cyprus estimates that 2.5 million birds are illegally trapped every year in Cyprus, including threatened and endangered species. Caught on limesticks or mist nets, the birds face a slow and painful death. Tiny songbirds, locally known as ambelopoulia, end up served as the tastiest of delicacies. Others are killed and thrown away as collateral damage. BirdLife says the trappers consider it bad luck to free trapped birds.
Following the New Yorker article, Cyprus’ tourism booth in Germany’s Hanover was picketed in 2011 by protesters calling on visitors to boycott Cyprus. This summer, Jonathan Franzen who wrote the New Yorker article told the world again, this time in National Geographic “Cypriots harvest warblers on an industrial scale and consume them by the plateful, in defiance of the law”. Franzen’s 2013 documentary on bird trapping is scheduled for more screenings next year. He accompanied members of the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) on their expeditions and has filmed attacks by angry poachers in Cyprus.
CABS has condemned authorities kowtowing to pressure from groups, mostly hunters in the Famagusta region, who wanted activists out of their way. In April, locals disrupted ruling DISY party elections in Paralimni, protesting against anti-bird trapping campaigns. They said the government was running a police state by organising raids on restaurants and homes of suspected bird trappers.
DISY leader, Averof Neophytou, promised them the activists would leave them alone. Soon afterwards, police’s anti-poaching squad were withdrawn from a joint operation with CABS to collect data and enforce anti-poaching laws, a week before the study’s endpoint. Meanwhile, lawmakers have previously lobbied for hunters’ interests, from trying to relax the law to trying and failing to scrap the laws altogether on the grounds that limestick trapping was a traditional sport, and inviting the Friends of the Limestick Organisation to the House to listen to their views.
Conservationists advise people to just stop eating ambelopoulia. It could go a long way towards restoring a bruised reputation just when Cyprus is looking to tourism as a solution to the recession, they say.