Chris Pack­ham

Com­mit­tee Against Bird Slaugh­ter

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents - CHRIS PACK­HAM is a con­ser­va­tion­ist and pre­sen­ter. O Would you like to com­ment on this is­sue? Let us know: email wildlifele­t­[email protected]­me­di­

Chris’s lat­est un­sung hero


Andrea, Axel and the rest of grass­roots group ‘CABS’ risk life and limb to save mi­grat­ing birds in Europe.

Snip­ping through a mist net with scis­sors feels like a crime, but crouched in to­tal dark­ness with a black­cap cupped in my hand, I know it isn’t. I cut the fab­ric and gen­tly place the lit­tle bird in my pocket where five more are al­ready se­creted. Then I cut through the ties, roll the whole thing up and stuff it into Andrea Rutigliano’s bulging back­pack.

We don’t speak – if we’re caught by the poach­ers we’ll be shot at or beaten up. We’re on Cape Pyla, Cyprus, where an es­ti­mated 10,000 small birds are il­le­gally killed ev­ery night to sat­isfy a busi­ness worth €15 mil­lion. The crim­i­nals are sup­ply­ing the trade in am­be­lopou­lia – a Cypriot so-called ‘del­i­cacy’.

War­blers and thrushes and what­ever else has the mis­for­tune to get lured into these nets end up boiled or grilled and served up as a ‘sta­tus’ dish cost­ing €60–80 per head. So it’s big money and a big prob­lem. But tonight it’s be­ing con­fronted by a few re­mark­able young peo­ple brave enough to work at the coal­face of con­ser­va­tion.

I first came across the Com­mit­tee Against Bird Slaugh­ter (CABS) on Malta a few years ago and im­me­di­ately liked their fear­less at­ti­tude and no-non­sense ap­proach. They get stuck in and I was pleased to join them in Cyprus.

CABS is based in Ger­many and acts en­tirely within the law, li­ais­ing with po­lice and cus­toms of­fi­cials to com­bat il­le­gal bird-killing across Europe. Its mem­bers pride them­selves on rapid re­ac­tion to wildlife crises. We need more peo­ple like them.

On Malta Axel Hirschfiel­d led us on a con­vo­luted trail through the thick, dry scrub to a lit­tle glade where a trap­per had nets set for thrushes, and a few me­tres away a tiny cage full of song thrushes was putting all heaven in a rage. The po­lice duly ar­rived, con­fis­cated the trap­ping ma­te­ri­als and promised to in­ves­ti­gate the sit­u­a­tion fur­ther.

Axel told me how CABS had bought a drone to fly over the Mal­tese coun­try­side to spot il­le­gal trap­ping sites. Un­for­tu­nately, it was shot down, like ev­ery­thing else that dares to fly over. He also told me how, while in France in­ves­ti­gat­ing or­tolan bunt­ing hunt­ing, he and his col­leagues had been shot at and then, while they were hid­ing in a ce­real field, the hunters sped through the crop in trac­tors try­ing to run them over. Axel has no doubt that the hunters were try­ing to kill him. (Ear­lier, when I ex­plained that I was go­ing to Cyprus, he warned me: “Be care­ful, be very care­ful.”)

On the night cam­era­man Luke Massey and I were stum­bling across Cape Pyla’s stony fields it was thick with trap­pers, their nets and their acous­tic lures, all pump­ing out a ca­coph­ony of bird­song. Lead­ing the way were Andrea and Bost­jan De­bersek with a map of all the trap­ping sites.

Andrea had al­ready been on the is­land for two weeks, out ev­ery night and up all day in a re­lent­less as­sault on the il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties, and Bost­jan was there to take over. As it got light we snuck off and started look­ing for birdlime sticks, re­leas­ing the cap­tives and smash­ing up the sticky poles.

That af­ter­noon I met with all the CABS vol­un­teers and what a mo­ment it was. Young, old, male, fe­male and from all over the world… one young man had come all the way from Hong Kong. All un­paid, all highly mo­ti­vated, all dis­en­chanted with the lack of progress by the au­thor­i­ties and hell-bent on mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. This com­mit­ted col­lec­tive of ac­tivists was the most in­spir­ing gang of gamechang­ers I’ve met in a long while and I salute them.

The fear­less, mo­ti­vated and in­ter­na­tional mem­bers of CABS.

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