By Constantinos Psillides
Conservationists are in an uproar over the government’s perceived attempt to legalise the hunting of black caps (ambelopoulia), claiming that they were deceived by the interior ministry.
The cabinet announced on Thursday that it would be taking a strategic plan for the conservation of wild birds to the parliament that would include a clause that would allow for the ‘selective’ hunting of ambelopoulia, which is illegal. Poachers currently use nets and limesticks indiscriminately.
Cyprus has often been heavily criticised for its reluctance to deal with the phenomenon. One of the goal’s of the government’s proposal is to “deal with the negative image Cyprus has abroad.”
While the strategic plan was drawn up after much deliberation with environmental groups, NGOs say the government introduced the last-minute change without their knowledge.
The proposal, they said, “instead of aiming to tackle illegal trapping, opens the way to the legalisation of ambelopoulia hunting.”
The statement was signed by BirdLife Cyprus, the Cyprus Conservation Foundation Terra Cypria, Friends of the Earth Cyprus, the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) and the Foundation Pro Biodiversity (SPA). The NGOs also condemned the deception.
They said two workshops had been held where all stakeholders, including the interior ministry, discussed the problem of illegal trapping and the approaches to tackle it.
Based on these workshops, a Strategic Action Plan was developed, which all stakeholders received in April 2014, for adoption and implementation, it said.
During this process, “the selective hunting of ambelopoulia” was never discussed, they said.
“This is an undemocratic development, which is destructive and totally unacceptable.”
The NGOs also said the government, during the European Conference on Illegal Killing of Birds, co-organised by the Council of Europe and the Game and Fauna Service (Ministry of Interior), had agreed to the ‘Declaration of Larnaca’ “condemning all forms of illegal trapping and trading of wild birds, and pledged a zero tolerance approach to illegal killing.”
Cyprus will probably file for an exemption to the EU directive, claiming that hunting songbirds is a traditional past time.
As the NGOs argue, “derogations can be given, but only following documented justification in the interests of “public health and safety, in the interests of air safety, to prevent serious damage to crops, livestock, forests, fisheries and water and for the protection of flora and fauna. Also, for the purposes of research and teaching, re-population, re-introduction and for the breeding necessary for these purposes and to permit, under strictly supervised conditions and on a selective basis, the capture, keeping or other judicious use of certain birds in small numbers.”
The NGOs claim that the government’s only motive is the “legalisation and not the combating of the phenomenon, since it will be impossible to control hunting because the situation with illegal trapping is already out of control.”
Meanwhile, Famagusta DISY MP Evgenios Hamboullas inadvertently revealed what the government meant by ‘selective’ hunting, when he called the Tasos Tryfonos and Christiana Artemiou radio show on Love FM yesterday morning.
Tryfonos criticised the government over its attempt to legalise bird trapping through the backdoor. This prompted a reaction from the MP.
While on air, Hamboullas asked what was wrong with hunting ambelopoulia with an air gun, which suggests the government’s idea is that it would be fine to shoot down the birds but not trap.
The radio host accused Hamboullas of indulging in a barbaric practice, adding that “half the politicians” in the Famagusta area were eating the birds in restaurants.” Hamboullas said what was barbaric was not “accepting a different opinion” but maintained he himself stopped eating ambelopoulia since it was outlawed.
Famagusta MPs from all political parties have at times come to the aid of poachers, even going as far as to chastise police officers for conducting searches in people’s homes to look for nets and limesticks.
BirdLife’s campaign manager Tasos Shialis, told the Cyprus Mail: “This is a disaster. In one stroke they have taken the discussion on bird conservation back 15 years. We are back at square one.”
But he said the government would have a hard time convincing the EU Commission it was entitled to a derogation.
“Getting an exemption is almost impossible. The directive is crystal clear on what grounds selective hunting of birds is allowed. We do not fit any of the criteria,” he said.
According to BirdLife Cyprus, 2014 was the worst year for bird trapping since a record 900,000 songbirds were killed by poachers in the British base area of Dhekelia alone last autumn.
That is three times the number since monitoring began in 2002.
It is estimated that 1.5 million songbirds are killed each year by poachers. Ambelopoulia can go for up to €80 a kilo.