By Constantinos Psillides
BIRDLIFE Cyprus unveiled a new strategy on Friday, aiming at changing the hearts and minds of Cypriots and turn them decisively against bird-trapping.
“Our goal is to change public attituded on the matter. Explain to them the real effects bird-trapping and turn the tide, so it would have a knock-on effect on politicians. We are just trying to get the message across,” said Martin Hellicar, Campaign Manager for BirdLife Cyprus.
During a press conference following a meeting with delegates from conservation NGOs from 20 countries, Hellicar talked about the new strategy and how it could help battle the chronic problem of bird-trapping.
BirdLife lined up press meetings and public events, along with some old-fashioned lobbying to achieve their goal, which is strict adherence to law and an end to the lucrative ambelopoulia trade.
BirdLife Cyprus has almost non-existent political support, limited funding, activists being prosecuted on the slightest offence, and it’s up against an industry that only last year was said to be profiting to the tune of €15 million a year.
Asked whether he was actually fighting for a lost cause, Hellicar was adamant. “To put it simply, we are in the right, they are in the wrong. We are in the side of good. We will get there. Eventually we will get there”.
Hazel Shokellu Thompson, CEO of BirdLife International, likened the organisation’s struggle with another that likewise appeared already lost at one time. “It’s the exact same thing with smoking. Twenty years ago, it would be unimaginable that indoor smoking would be forbidden. Nowadays, it almost seems rude for people to be smoking. It’s all about changing the perspective of the public. Tobacco companies lost that fight and tobacco companies have far more resources at their disposal than trappers,” she said.
Bob Elliot, head of Investigations for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), pointed out that this was an ongoing struggle and that it might not be resolved during their careers. “I took over from people that were 23 years in the game,” he said.
Elliot said that instead of declining, the number of birds being trapped was increasing. According to preliminary results given by BirdLife Cyprus and RSPB by last December, around 1.5 million birds were killed in Cyprus.
BirdLife Cyprus told the Cyprus Mail at that that time, the scale of bird-trapping had increased by 54 per cent.
Geoffrey Saliba, chairman of BirdLife Malta, told the press that Maltese people were fed up with illegality and not be able to see the migratory birds that stop on the island on their way north, Saliba was the only one who gave some praise to Cyprus, explaining that at least Cyprus had outlawed bird-trapping. “Malta was forced to out-phase illegal trappings as part of the country’s EU accession negotiation. Spring hunting is not yet outlawed but Maltese people who are fed up are pressing for the issue to be put in to a referendum,, he said.
Despite the laws in place, poachers and restaurateurs still get away with serving ambelopoulia. SBA police Divisional Commander James Guy, told the Cyprus Mail this year that restaurants were rarely prosecuted for serving ambelopoulia. “There are politicians who appear to have a very sympathetic attitude towards trappers,” he said.