Following yesterday’s press release of actions in Cyprus by the Committee Against Bird Slaughter, I’d like to parse through the CABS report in more detail (PDF). It’s pretty good, and begins with this section:
The preferred quarry of the poachers is small song birds, principally warblers, flycatchers and robins. They trap the birds either for their own consumption or for commercial trade. The birds, mostly weighing scarcely 20 grams, are sold to local butchers and find their way from there on to restaurant menus. The profit margins are so high that a flourishing trade in the protected birds has become established.
In this way poaching, particularly with the use of mist nets, has sharply increased in recent years. The cause for this is not least the negligent or indeed widespread lack of prosecution of offenders. Large sections of the population are well aware of the problem but either ignore it, or indeed actively support the poachers. With an annual catch of well over 10 million protected song birds, the Republic of Cyprus is today, ahead of Italy and Malta, the main focus of bird poaching in Europe.
For elaboration on which birds are protected by what laws, check out the EU Birds Directive. Also, to be honest, I think the toll for 2008 was only around 1.1 million birds, down from the 10 million plus numbers of the 1990s. That’s still horrible, but I don’t want us to reporting old data as if it were up-to-date (They defend their estimates in the report however, and I could be wrong…).
Most importantly is the emphasis on the toleration of this poaching by the Cypriots themselves, enabling poaching to continue. As Martin Hellicar noted on 10,000 Birds, it’s a remarkably rare event that a Cypriot will report evidence of these poaching activities. (Usually, it is Brits and other foreigners who report instances to the authorities, and even then, authorities face an uphill battle in getting the courts to rule for harsh penalties).
The CABS report continues with a lot of detailed description of the use of limesticks and mist nets in Cyprus, followed by hard numbers from their recent actions:
In the southeast of the island in particular, around the towns of Paralimni and Agia Napa, prepared installations for lime sticks can be found in some 80 % of all private gardens and orchards. In spring about a quarter of these installations are active.
According to conservative estimates by CABS, some 15,000 to 20,000 lime sticks are set out on the south coast of Cyprus in spring. In the Paralimni/Agia Napa area alone, the number of lime sticks probably amount to some 5,000 to 10,000. In autumn these numbers are at least four times higher and therefore probably total some 100,000!
During the bird protection camp in April/May 2009 over 200 trapping facilities were located between Limassol and Agia Napa. At 48 of these locations a total of 2,136 lime sticks were found and dismantled. Most installations had on average between 20 to 40 lime sticks; an exception was an installation of 3 hectares (7. 5 acres) near Paralimni with 409 lime sticks. Electronic decoys were active. In eight of the lime stick installations. The Cyprus Police and the Game Fund were called to six fenced-in gardens and orchards where traps had been set out.
In total the CABS teams found 143 birds on lime sticks, 25 of which were already dead. Some 45 % of all trapped birds were Blackcaps; other species included in particular Spectacled Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Pied, Collared and Spotted Flycatcher, as well as Sedge Warbler, Golden Oriole, Turtle Dove, Bee-eater, Wryneck and a single Tawny Owl.
No comments to add here – I don’t really have to, other than to say I think these numbers sound like fair and conservatives estimates indeed, as CABS claims.
Actually, I do have one comment – the electronic decoys that they mention are used frequently, which play recorded Blackcap calls to lure the birds near limesticks (and mist nets).
The report goes on to describe mist nets (both estimates and actual findings), make note of two incidents in which the CABS team alleges they were assaulted by poachers, found at least 10 restaurants and a butcher willing to sell ambelopoulia. Most importantly though, they comment more on the tolerance (and lack of prosecution) of offenders:
The maximum penalty for poaching or trade in protected birds on Cyprus is a fine of 17,000 Euros or a 3 year jail sentence. In recent years such severe penalties have not been imposed. The average penalty a poacher can expect is a fine of about 3,000 Euros.
A prosecution rarely follows in the majority of cases. Both the Cyprus Police and the Game Fund freely admit that they usually only seize the illegal traps and nets and that the poachers, if they can indeed be identified, escape with a warning. Even the landholders of fenced-in properties where traps are found, and ownership is not in doubt, are not as a rule prosecuted.
All the police officers and game wardens we spoke to on operations were of the opinion that lime sticks were very much the lesser of two evils. In effect it became evident to us that trapping birds on lime sticks appears to be widely tolerated by the state as a peccadillo. Nonetheless, net trapping, considered by the authorities to be the much greater problem, is seldom prosecuted with the full force of the law. Since 2007, according to the police, only some 200 official complaints have been investigated.
Planned ambush operations by the police or game wardens (as conducted in Italy) of lime stick or net installations seldom take place. Although the number and extent of trapping installations would make such operations child’s play, the officers showed little interest in those we reported to them, even the few very extensive installations. This undoubtedly politically intended disinterest in prosecution of offenders is the greatest problem at present on Cyprus, and is certainly the reason for the further escalating phenomenon of
poaching on the island.
If this bothers you, I ask you to email this article to friends. Spread the word – perhaps by raising this issue in the European community we, who aren’t Cypriots and look in from the outside, and create some pressure for action from within.