By Angelos Anastasiou
BIRD activists claim that since government changed last year there has been a U-turn in the fight against poaching.
In a joint statement, the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) and the Foundation Pro Biodiversity (SPA) claim that, although their cooperation with the Anti-poaching Squad of the Cyprus police, as well as the Game Fund, was “particularly successful” in 2011 and 2012, a U-turn was observed in their stance since mid-2013, implying the government was showing political support for illegal bird trapping despite a commitment to the implementation of relevant national and international legislation.
“The Cypriot authorities have withdrawn their support and obstructed the volunteers, despite the latter reporting numerous cases of illegal trapping and repeated acts of violence against them,” the statement said.
As a result of the alleged withdrawal of cooperation on the authorities’ part, the environmentalist groups have filed official complaints with the Commissioner for Administration and Protection of Human Rights (Ombudswoman) of the Republic of Cyprus, the Environment Committee of the European Parliament, the Directorate General for Environment of the European Commission and the Secretariat of the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats.
Ombudswoman Eliza Savvides has confirmed looking into the activists’ complaint and that the investigation is nearing completion. Savvides also shares the view that the government’s attitude towards cooperation with the environmentalist groups has recently taken a turn for the worse but did not offer further explanation, pointing out that the Commission’s comprehensive report on the matter will be issued soon.
Local press reports had Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou arguing in August 2013 that activists must respect the law in carrying out their activities, and that the cooperation between them and the police “must remain within the limits of the law.”
“When activists enter residents’ backyards, without previous approval and in the early morning hours, they are in clear violation of acknowledged individual rights that the police have a duty to protect and uphold for all citizens,” Nicolaou is quoted as saying.
CABS have issued a categorical denial of any unlawful activity, especially of “trespassing on fenced private property”, conceding however that patrolling teams of volunteers enter open plantations to check for bird-traps or other illegal trapping equipment, a task for which “vast numbers of trained police officers” would otherwise need to be deployed.
Despite the reported indifference and harassment by the competent agencies, teams of volunteers located and dismantled 4,236 limesticks, 59 mist nets and 91 electronic bird callers, with over 200 caught birds, including many rare songbirds and owls, have been released into the wild.
New missions by CABS and the SPA will be dispatched in April and May to perform on-the-ground review of the situation, and a report on the autumn 2013 bird protection campaigns and surveys will be published soon.
The conservationist groups, who perform on-the-ground campaigns twice a year in various locations including Cyprus, have asserted that in recent years that their volunteers have repeatedly been victims of threats, physical violence and even an incident of gunshots fired at them by groups of poachers trying to scare them off.