Posted by: Dan | July 28, 2010

Ambelopoulia in the New Yorker

It’s subscription only, so I haven’t gotten to read it. But Jonathan Franzen has an article in The New Yorker of relevance to illegal songbird hunting and trapping in Malta, Cyprus, and other Mediterranean countries that lie on migratory flyways.

Emptying the Skies

ABSTRACT: A REPORTER AT LARGE about the annual decimation of migratory birds by hunters and poachers in southern Europe. Writer accompanies members of the German bird-protection organization the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) as they challenge songbird trapping operations in Cyprus. Blackcaps, one of Europe’s most common warblers, are the traditional national delicacy on Cyprus, where they’re known as ambelopoulia. They are the main target of Cypriot trappers, but the by-catch of other species is enormous: rare shrikes, other warblers, larger birds like cuckoos and golden orioles, even small owls and hawks. On the island, all forms of songbird trapping have been criminal offenses since 1974. By the mid-nineties, as many as ten million songbirds a year were being killed in Cyprus. To meet the restaurant demand, traditional lime-stick trapping had been augmented by large-scale netting operations, and the Cypriot government, which was trying to clean up its act and win membership in the European Union, cracked down hard on the netters. By 2006, the annual take had fallen to around a million. In the past few years, however, with Cyprus now a member of the E.U., the number of active trapping sites is rising. Tells about an altercation between CABS staff and local residents.

Writer travels to Malta, the most savagely bird-hostile place in Europe. The Maltese shoot bee-eaters, hoopoes, golden orioles, shearwaters, storks, and herons. Maltese hunters, who argue that the country is too small to make a meaningful dent in European bird populations, fiercely resent what they see as foreign interference in their “tradition.” Writer travels with Tolga Telmuge, a former Greenpeace director who campaigns against illegal hunting in Malta and interviews Joseph Perici Calascione of the national hunter’s organization. Considers whether Maltese hunting activities can be accurately described as a “culture” or “tradition.”

Tells about bird poaching in Italy, where a restrictive hunting law was passed in 1992. It is impossible to know how many birds are shot in Italy. It is a crucial migratory flyway. Banded birds have been recovered there from every country in Europe, thirty-eight countries in Africa, and six in Asia. Writer interviews Fulco Pratesi, a former big-game hunter who founded W.W.F. Italy and who now considers hunting “a mania.” Also interviews Franco Orsi, a senator from Silvio Berlusconi’s party who has proposed a law to liberalize the use of decoys and expand the times and places in which hunting is permitted. Tells about the work of Anna Giordano, an activist who helped suppress the poaching of honey buzzards at the Strait of Messina.

Describes eating ambelopoulia at a restaurant in Cyprus.

It’s good to see publicity like this is a major literary magazine. Word is getting out there.


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