Illegal bird trapping in Cyprus is reaching disastrous levels a British conservationist has warned.
Speaking to The Cyprus Daily, Roger Little a volunteer for BirdLife Cyprus who spent the last three weeks on the island monitoring trapping sites said he was shocked by the organised and large-scale trapping methods being used on the island.
“From what I have seen it’s clear that there is a strong criminal element involved in this illegal industry and this should be worrying people a lot more than it is.”
While taking part in a recent monitoring programme in Maroni, aimed at detecting trends in Cyprus birds and identifying threats that need to be addressed, Little and another BirdLife conservationist were confronted and threatened by trappers.
“We were inspecting an area which is a known trapping hotspot when a car suddenly pulled up behind our vehicle and blocked us in. We were initially confronted by two men who threatened to call the police and when we said this was fine another car suddenly appeared and two more hostile men got out.”
The volunteer said they were ordered to leave the area immediately and told that if they ever returned they would be “buried in the ground”.
“I think this really dispels the myth that people in Cyprus still catch ampelopoulia on a small scale to feed their families. It seems clear that there is an organised network of criminals who stake claim to certain areas and are not afraid to threaten people who come close.”
Little explained that the BirdLife Cyprus has a non-intervention policy and its members never wander into fenced off land so as not give trappers an excuse for violence.
“In the event that we come across an area that has been set up with traps we take photographs and mark the spot on a map before alerting the authorities,” he said
According the BirdLife data, a single trapping site can easily catch around 500 birds in a night which can fetch a few thousand euros on the black market.
And while the illegal industry flourishes political will to combat illegal bird trapping seems to be diminishing.
“From what I have been told there are areas such as Famagusta which are known as pro-trapping districts. Politicians eager to secure the votes of the population don’t want to upset anyone so they are not pushing for the law to be enforced.”
Another issue is the lack of convictions for people caught using illegal trapping methods.
“Fines are issued but as they’re never more that a few hundred euros they are only a slap on the wrist for a trapper who can rake in thousands in a night.”
Having also campaigned against bird trapping in Malta and Sicily, Little said the problem in Cyprus appears to be much worse. The main reason being the non-selective nature of trapping which makes use of mist nets, lime sticks and calling devices to lure birds in.
“The first bird I saw trapped on a limestick when I arrived in Cyprus was a Red Back shrike. In the entire UK there is only one breeding pair of Red Baked Shrikes and these rare birds are offered 24-hour protection.”
According to the volunteer, the Cypriots have not yet realised the full extent of the problem. “There are only 20 species of birds that are classified as ampelopoulia but over 150 species end up as by-catch in mist nets.”
And based on BirdLife data around two million birds are slaughtered each year in order to feed the illegal ampelopoulia industry. In a heartfelt plea to the Cypriot public, the conservationist asked that people try to understand that indiscriminate killing is not restricted to the island. It also affects the bird populations of many other countries in Europe.
“When Cyprus became a member of the EU it joined a bigger club which has its benefits but also has certain rules. In the spirit of democracy these rules should be respected and bird trapping in Cyprus should be stamped out.”