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Hun­dreds of thou­sands of song­birds killed by crim­i­nal gangs in Cyr­pus

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents -

Out­rage at the killing of small birds for food on the black mar­ket in Cyprus

ANEW RE­PORT ES­TI­MATES that more than 800,000 birds were il­le­gally killed on a Bri­tish mil­i­tary base in Cyprus dur­ing the 2016 au­tumn mi­gra­tion, with trap­pers go­ing to ex­treme lengths to con­tinue their crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties. The song­birds are sold via the black mar­ket to restaurants in the Repub­lic of Cyprus, where they’re served as part of an ex­pen­sive mezze dish, am­be­lopou­lia. This plate of 12 fried or grilled song­birds is sold covertly, as the prac­tice of trap­ping birds for hu­man con­sump­tion has been il­le­gal on the is­land for al­most 40 years. Or­gan­ised crim­i­nal gangs are mak­ing huge prof­its from this il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity. To lure the birds, trap­pers have planted large num­bers of non-na­tive aca­cia trees on Min­istry of De­fence land. As these pro­vide the only cover in these ar­eas, the birds find them ir­re­sistible. In ad­di­tion, the trap­pers play bird calls at high vol­ume from var­i­ous elec­tronic de­vices, mak­ing the aca­cias even more at­trac­tive to Black­caps, Robins and other small passer­ines. A to­tal of 155 bird species have been found trapped in mist nets or on li­me­sticks. Of these, 78 were of con­ser­va­tion con­cern, in­clud­ing Cinere­ous Bunting, Pal­lid Har­rier, Red-footed Fal­con and Tur­tle Dove. The most ef­fec­tive way to stop the il­le­gal trap­ping has been for the Bri­tish Army base au­thor­i­ties to re­move the aca­cia. How­ever, last au­tumn they were un­able to do this as the trap­pers be­gan large protests and a dra­matic block­ade. This meant that only seven acres of aca­cia could be taken away, com­pared to 54 acres cleared in pre­vi­ous years. Martin Harper, RSPB Con­ser­va­tion Di­rec­tor, said: “This re­port sadly high­lights that the Bri­tish base is the num­ber one bird killing hotspot on the whole is­land of Cyprus. Many much-loved gar­den bird species are be­ing trapped and killed for huge profit by crim­i­nal gangs. “The trap­pers’ brazen preven­tion of the re­moval of their crim­i­nal in­fra­struc­ture from MOD land could never be tol­er­ated here in the UK. The UK Gov­ern­ment must there­fore pro­vide en­force­ment sup­port to help the base au­thor­i­ties re­spond to the trap­pers and safely re­move the re­main­ing 90 acres of aca­cia so that they can­not be used to kill hun­dreds of thou­sands more birds.” The re­port es­ti­mates that more than 1.7 mil­lion birds could have been killed within the sur­vey area, which cov­ers both the Bri­tish base and Cyprus Repub­lic ar­eas, and nearly 2.3 mil­lion across the whole of Cyprus due to this ex­ten­sive bird trap­ping ac­tiv­ity. This in­dus­trial scale ac­tiv­ity has also been con­firmed in a 2016 scientific pa­per, where Cyprus was iden­ti­fied as one of the worst places for il­le­gal bird killing in the Mediter­ranean. Martin Hel­licar, Di­rec­tor of Birdlife Cyprus, said: “While our lat­est find­ings clearly show that the worst bird killing hotspot in Cyprus re­mains on MOD land, we can­not ig­nore the dis­taste­ful fact that the restaurants serv­ing trapped birds op­er­ate within the Cyprus Repub­lic. En­force­ment against these law-break­ing restaurants has been lim­ited – at best – in re­cent years, and the Cypriot au­thor­i­ties must change this. We need a clamp-down on the il­le­gal mar­ket sup­port­ing this wildlife crime, some­thing the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion has called for, re­peat­edly.” This has be­come a sig­nif­i­cant con­ser­va­tion is­sue con­cern­ing mi­gra­tory birds which rely on Cyprus as a stopover to break up their jour­ney across the Mediter­ranean. It’s vi­tal that ac­tion is taken to end this bla­tant crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity and en­sure safe pas­sage of mil­lions of song­birds.

AM­BE­LOPOU­LIA

The ex­pen­sive, and il­le­gal, dish for which birds are killed

BLACK MAR­KET The birds are sold covertly af­ter be­ing trapped in mist nets

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