By Jean Christou
THE Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) and the Committee Foundation Pro Biodiversity (SPA) have welcomed what they described as a landmark report by Ombudswoman Eliza Savvidou calling for zero tolerance on illegal bird trapping.
The two international organisations, which have just completed their spring campaign, said the report would be “a milestone in the formulation and implementation of a comprehensive and effective policy to combat illegal, selective and mass trapping, killing and trading of protected wild birds in Cyprus”.
The report was prepared in response to a complaint submitted by the two organisations against the justice ministry, alleging breach of the rule of law and good governance.
The 36-page report concludes that to fully combat illegal trapping, the authorities needed the will to show zero tolerance, which would, it said, act as a deterrent for both trappers and those restaurants that illegally serve ambelopoulia. It would also help ignite public perception, which could result in an eventual drop in demand for the delicacy.
“That is why the policy of the authorities responsible for zero tolerance should be firm and imposed without exception,” it added.
The first step should be the immediate condemnation without hesitation of all forms of illegal trapping and trading by the government, local authorities and NGO’s, including hunting groups, Savvidou said in her report.
“It is not enough that the law applies but to be effective it needs the awareness of the general public with emphasis on targeted groups, such as hunters, farmers, children and youth in order to secure political support, effective investigation, satisfactory judicial procedures and penalties for wrongdoers.”
The report suggested the general public did not appear to know or share the view on the environmental importance of seeing wild birds as a common heritage, or their protection as an environmental issue directly related to the broader issue of sustainability.
“It is also uncertain the degree of public awareness about the offences and penalties prescribed by the law,” the report added.
Savvidou said with ambelopoulia being sold for €80 or €90 a dozen in restaurants, the total annual profits from illegal trapping ran into the millions.
“If and when trappers are brought before the courts, the penalties that may be imposed are likely to be incomparably lower than their revenue,” she said.
Volunteer/activist groups with specialised knowledge could be good partners for the authorities and contribute to the difficult, complicated and arduous work of the government, the report said.
Instead the police had withdrawn their support for groups like CABS in 2012 and 2013, giving the impression that the necessary political will to combat the phenomenon did not exist.
However the report notes that the justice ministry did give its support for this year’s spring campaign. Without police at the scene of illegal trapping, it is impossible to arrest trappers being caught red-handed, Savvidou noted.
She said given that most government authorities are cash strapped, it would make more sense to combine efforts and also to seek funding from the finance ministry to cover the needs of the two trapping periods in spring and autumn. In addition, since 75 per cent of all trapping occurs in the Larnaca and Famagusta regions, it should be easier to concentrate efforts in these two areas with the help of the British bases police.
CABS said that during this year’s spring campaign they confiscated 2,256 limesticks, 27 nets and 10 electronic sound devices used to lure birds, and they reported 15 trappers. More than 700 dead birds were seized as evidence.