I’m a bit late in posting this, but do you remember a few months ago, when two men here in Cyprus were tracked down after slaughtering 52 Red-footed Falcons (Falco vespertinus), for target practice? The incident occurred on British Sovereign Base Area (SBA) land, and the case went to the SBA courts.
Last month, the British SBA court issued a ruling: the two men were fined a ‘derisory’ €1,250 each. That’s it.
Under the relevant bird protection law, the British SBA court could have imposed a fine of up to €17,000 or up to three years imprisonment, or both. The shocking massacre of the migrating falcons – the worst incident of bird of prey killing ever reported in Cyprus – made headlines across Europe after BirdLife Cyprus released shocking pictures of the gunned down birds. The shot falcons – a species of global conservation concern – appear to have been hit for target practice, with 46 corpses and 6 injured birds left lying in a citrus grove a stone’s throw from a main road. The injured birds did not survive.
The defense argument:
After plea-bargaining before their court appearance, the two Limassol men accused of killing the threatened birds of prey admitted to shooting just four of the falcons, which they said they had mistaken for turtle doves. The shooting took place in a ‘no hunting’ area at Phasouri, within the Akrotiri Sovereign Base Area.
How do they mistake falcons for turtle doves? If they weren’t hunters and had never paid attention to birds much before, I’d believe it. My impression of the hunters here in Cyprus though is that they are as familiar with species identification as a good birdwatcher, and could distinguish between different falcon species with skill. In fact, hunters still routinely illegally poach songbirds of specific species served as expensive ambelopoulia delicacies in village restaurants (who overlook the illegality), with estimates of 500,000 songbirds being poached this past Autumn alone. And these hunters claim that they cannot distinguish a falcon from a pigeon? – The obvious conclusion is that these hunters are bald-faced liars.
Birdlife Cyprus issued this response:
‘This is disastrous case of failure of a judicial system coming close on the heels of failure of an enforcement system,’ said BirdLife Cyprus Executive Manager Martin Hellicar. He added: ‘The shooting of these highly endangered falcons should never have been allowed to happen and the derisory penalties imposed today will not even begin to act as a deterrent for other would-be poachers in what is a well-known poaching black-spot.
‘Unfortunately, ineffective penalties such as the ones imposed today are the norm when it comes to poaching offences in Cyprus, whether this be with guns, nets or limesticks. It is high time for Brussels to take serious note of the degenerating poaching situation in Cyprus – particularly as regards illegal bird trapping, which doubled last autumn – and demand effective enforcement action from both the UK and Cyprus governments.’
Regarding the Red-Footed Falcon:
The Red-footed flacon, Falco vespertinus, is a small, handsome, migratory falcon and a colonial species that nests and migrates in groups. Strictly protected everywhere in the EU, the red-footed falcon has suffered severe declines in its main, eastern European breeding range in recent decades and is classified as ‘near threatened’ by BirdLife International. The falcon is also listed in Annex I of the EU Birds Directive, which means Member States are obliged to make a special effort to conserve it. This threatened falcon is regarded as one of the farmer’s best friends, due to its predation on grasshoppers and beetles.