BirdLife Cyprus and Terra Cypria have released the “mid-term” bird trapping report, letting us know that Cypriots are on track to trap over 2 million birds for Ambelopoulia. Although the police have begun routine patrols the trappers continue criminal activities unhidden and in broad daylight even, knowing that even if caught, the penalties are meaningless and the profits are substantial. The trappers are winning, and vulnerable species are under attack in Cyprus.
Autumn 2010 in Cyprus presents a picture of bird slaughter in mist nets and limesticks that is without precedent in recent years. The level of trapping activity recorded in the field so far this autumn is without precedent in the 9 years that BirdLife has been carrying out systematic monitoring of trapping activity. Data gathered by the half-way point (end September) of BirdLife’s 2010 autumn surveillance programme suggests mist netting has shot up by 140% and limestick use by a staggering 265%, both compared to the autumn of 2009. (It is worth noting here that the autumn of 2009 itself saw the worst levels of trapping recorded for five years). Bird trappers are acting with little fear of prosecution (court penalties remain non-deterrent for the most part) and enjoy the support of many local communities and the very vocal support of MPs from the main trapping areas (Famagusta and Larnaca districts). Trapped bird “delicacies”, known as ambelopoulia, are very widely available in local restaurants and are even being sold door-to-door in some villages.
Over 3 kilometres of active net rides were located during the first five weeks of the BirdLife field monitoring effort. A total of 362 limesticks were also found, even though the BirdLife effort does not focus on finding these, but rather on detecting netting activity. Additional, “casual”, searches carried out beyond the monitoring programme’s set survey squares turned up another 460 metres of active net rides. Our monitoring covers extensive areas of the Cyprus republic but also of the British Sovereign Base (SBA) area of Dhekelia, which also has a chronic trapping problem.
Enforcement efforts by the Cyprus Game Fund, the new Cyprus Police anti-poaching unit and the SBA Police continue, often in the face of violent reactions from the trappers. The authorities report increased arrests of suspected trappers this autumn, but limited resources mean all three authorities are seriously stretched and unable to effectively stop trapping. Many hard-core trappers are now very highly organised and even dangerous. With very few exceptions, courts fail to use the full force of the law and impose deterrent penalties for trapping convictions.
The BirdLife field team has faced aggressive behavior from suspected trappers on a number of separate occasions during the survey. It is clear to us that this increased level of aggression indicates that trappers now feel they have a “right” to trap and are very little concerned, if at all, about the possibility of prosecution, despite the continuing efforts of the enforcement bodies (Game Fund, Cyprus and SBA Police).
The situation is very bad and requires urgent top-level political decisions to reinforce the enforcement effort if we are to avoid a bird slaughter of a massive scale in autumn 2010. The non-selective nature of limesticks and mist nets means that many threatened species are routinely caught and killed. Once again we also stress that urgent action is also needed to halt the sale of ambelopoulia in restaurants, something the Cyprus government has so far been reluctant to do.
We call on the Standing Committee to play its part (as it has done to great effect in the past) in putting political pressure on the Cyprus and UK governments over this persistent, intractable and fast growing problem. We are at a crucial juncture in the battle against trapping, with the enforcement gains associated with the Island’s accession to the EU (an 80% reduction in trapping levels) now being reversed fast. Hundreds of thousands of migrant (and other) birds – including many threatened species – are being
killed in Cyprus.