Hundreds of thousands of songbirds killed by criminal gangs in Cyrpus
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.
The expensive, and illegal, dish for which birds are killed
BLACK MARKET The birds are sold covertly after being trapped in mist nets