CONSERVATION groups are perfectly justified to protest about the devious way in which the government has attempted to legalise the hunting of black caps (ambelopoulia). While it is doubtful it will succeed in obtaining derogations from the EU, its action is a reminder that the Cyprus authorities have never been committed to the protection of the birds and have always looked for ways to wriggle out of their obligations under international conventions signed by the government.
There are parliamentary elections next year and whenever there are elections deputies of the Famagusta district bring up the issue of the ban because it is a vote-winner. There had been several attempts by district deputies, from all political backgrounds, to have the ban lifted and curry favour with the electorate. One proposal was to give poachers on-the-spot fines so they would not be dragged to court. But their main argument is that the killing and eating of ambelopoulia is part of the Cypriot tradition that needed to be safeguarded. Only yesterday a DISY deputy of the district was on television repeating this tired and unconvincing argument.
And now the Anastasiades government has come up with the bright idea of allowing the ‘selective’ hunting of ambelopoulia as part of its strategic plan for the conservation of wild birds. Allowing killing is a very peculiar way of conserving wild birds. But even more laughable is that one of the government’s objectives is to “deal with the negative image of Cyprus abroad”, caused by the mass slaughter of black caps by poachers who use mist nets and lime-sticks. How exactly would the country’s image improve by increasing the number of ways we kill black caps?
It would be naive to think that the use of lime-sticks and nets would stop if the government allows shooting. Poachers will carry on their illegal practices because there is no way they would kill as many birds with air guns and satisfy the demand of restaurants. But as long as there is a legal way of killing black caps, then restaurants would not be breaking the law in serving the birds. This may be the thinking behind the government’s ingenious strategic plan for the conservation of wild birds.
The authorities, with the notable exception of the Game Service which is fighting the poachers without any support from anyone, have never shown any commitment to the protection of black caps. All laws and measures have been passed under pressure from local and foreign conservation groups. These groups should now appeal to the EU and urge it not to grant the derogations the Cyprus government is seeking. It should not be difficult to persuade the EU to turn down the government’s request.