“It is an unacceptable toll and a depressing trend, which ever way you look at it”, said Martin Hellicar, Executive Manager at Birdlife Cyprus. BirdLife Cyprus have been systematically monitoring illegal trapping with mist nets and limesticks since 2002, with the support of the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK).
Trappers usually target Song Thrushes Turdus philomelos or migrant birds such as Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla, which are then served in restaurants as ambelopoulia ‘delicacies’, for up to five Euros a piece. The trapping methods are so indiscriminate that up to 100 species of bird are known to have been captured.
“Bird trapping is coming back to haunt us in a big way and the reason is the same as it has always been: there is a lot of money to be made out of it, and it will continue as long as restaurants are allowed to break the law”, said Hellicar. The banned bird delicacies remain widely available, because in 2008 only 9 restaurateurs were charged for serving ambelopoulia.
“We have been collecting condemning data on this problem for years, but when it comes to the ‘delicacies‘ on peoples’ plates, decision makers don’t really want to know.”
No restaurant is dumb enough to list ambelopoulia on their menus, but my suspicion is that most village taverns have it if you ask. Most people I know here also know me well enough to not bring the topic up with me, but on one occasion I got chatting with a first-time acquaintance who started bragging about how he was planning to go to a restaurant where they serve this illegal delicacy. Indeed, while the guy I work for is a Cypriot also disgusted by ambelopoulia, a there is another professor in my department (of Biological Sciences at the University of Cyprus) who has even proudly shown my PI and I pictures of him being served these songbirds at a restaurant.
So aside from a handful of restaurants that get a slap on the wrists, most of the time restaurants maintaining these illegal poaching activities operate on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with police and government officials. And few Cypriots care.