I’m not sure how many Europeans have heard of it, but Field & Stream is a very popular hunting and fishing magazine in the U.S. It is striking when compared to its European counterparts, because ever since its founding in 1895, Field & Stream has been just as much about conservation of the outdoors as enjoyment of the outdoors through hunting. You’d never see that attitude here in Southern Europe especially. Here, “If it flies, it dies,” goes the saying.
The poachers’ goal: a bagful of songbirds for sale to restaurants and markets for pickling or to make ambelopoulia, a platter of fried little birds that has been a traditional delicacy in the Mediterranean since the 16th century. One restaurant owner in the story who serves the illegal ambelopoulia likens the dish to natural Viagra, of course. (Rhinos being hard to come by on the Mediterranean, fried-up little birds must suffice.) The result: what was once a traditional rural delicacy is now a booming underground business catering to more affluent Cypriots and tourists, and the bird populations are going down fast. Law enforcement seems uninterested.
That much we know. And how does this seem to American outdoorsmen:
But as I read the story, I kept on thinking- why has the US been so different than this? Why have our hunters been the driving force behind conservation and preservation of habitat for almost 100 years (whether our own antis want to admit it or not)? We whacked out the passenger pigeon, decimated (at least, since decimation means killing one in ten) the plovers, curlews, etc. Almost polished off the buffalo and the grizz. But we brought them back, and made sure that they had habitat. We paid for the National Wildlife Refuge System with Duck Stamp money, and so on (and on, and on). We Americans seem to feel an obligation to the animals that we hunt- that if you are not in some way making sure it goes on, you don’t feel right about taking them. There’s nothing in Franzen’s story to suggest that the Cypriots or the Maltese hunters or the poachers feel any similar obligation.
Sounds about right. And yes, in case you were wondering, Franzen’s story is about right. Comment #2 is worth noting as well:
I don’t believe the Maltesse or Cypriots are “hunters” at all, so I don’t see a basis for comparison. They’re greedy capitalists, nothing more. The comparison could much easier be made between them and the fat cats on wallstreet. Out to make a quick buck, no regard for those left in the wake of their behaviour. We hunt as a passion, as a passtime, as a hobby, as a tradition. We don’t sell our meat, we feed our family with it, or donate it to those in need. These ‘poachers’ aren’t ‘hunting’ at all, they’re using traps and glue-sticks to kill the most game that they can, so that they can make the most money that they can.