By George Psyllides
A bird protection campaign in Cyprus has seen 36 bird trappers arrested and a large number or poaching equipment destroyed, the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) announced on Tuesday.
According to a news release, more than 3,314 illegal limesticks and 155 nets were destroyed during a bird protection camp conducted by CABS in cooperation with the SPA (Foundation for Biodiversity) on Cyprus this autumn.
Dubbed Operation Safe Passage, the camp covered five weeks from September to October 2015 and involved more than 30 conservationists and bird experts from six EU-countries.
CABS said its teams found and reported 162 illegal bird trapping sites equipped with 3,314 limesticks and 155 nets spanning more than 3.1 kilometres to the authorities.
According to CABS a total of 64 illegal electronic bird lures have also been discovered by the activists and later confiscated by the police.
Hotspots of illegal trapping activity this autumn were Ayios Nicolaos and Cape Pyla inside the Eastern Sovereign Base Area (Dhekelia British military base) and Avgorou and Liopetri in the Republic.
Volunteers found 855 trapped birds from 26 different species.
“All could be released after some days of intensive cleaning and rehabilitation in the CABS office.”
The most common species in the traps were Blackcaps, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warblers, Nightingales, and Reed Warblers, all long distant-migrants with populations declining in most EU countries.
Other species of international conservation concern found in the traps were Great Reed Warbler, Nightjar, Golden Oriole, Wryneck, several species of shrikes, flycatchers and the local subspecies of the Scops Owl for which Cyprus has a special responsibility.
The NGO praised the good cooperation between their teams and the various enforcement departments in the field but at the same time criticised the government for not providing the police with enough resources to tackle the problem.
“We had days on which we reported eight sites, yet the police were only able to conduct two spot checks at any one time,” CABS Wildlife Protection Officer Leeroy Dewitt said.
According to CABS and SPA the poaching situation in the UK-controlled Dhekelia sovereign base area is totally out of control.
“In one night two of our teams easily detected 16 illegal trapping sites in a small square in the area of Xylotymbou and the police only managed to make one prosecution”, Dewitt said.
CABS and SPA stressed that the majority of its reports related to large bird trapping installations, which suggested that trapping was carried out on an industrial scale.
“In recent years we have observed dozens of these kind of large scale trapping-sites which are designed to trap birds on an industrial scale. These sites are operated by criminal gangs who trap and sell thousands of birds per season,” CABS Operations Officer Andrea Rutigliano said. “We are not talking about single poachers who trap birds for the family´s kitchen. This is big business with a lot of money involved.”
BirdLife Cyprus estimates that 2.5 million birds are illegally trapped every year in Cyprus, including threatened and endangered species.
Caught on limesticks or mist nets, the birds, locally known as ambelopoulia, end up served as delicacies. Others are killed and thrown away as collateral damage.
CABS said stiffer penalties should be introduced to help tackle the problem.
“If the government really wants to eradicate bird poaching, the fines should increase drastically and a minimum fine of €3,000 should be agreed for offenders”.
On Malta, CABS said, similar changes in the hunting law have led to a significant decrease in hunting illegalities in recent years.
Cypriot law provides for a fine of up to €17,000 and or three years in prison for poaching offences.