Poaching Songbirds for Supper On the Rise in Cyprus

Frank Vassen/CC BY 2.0
The blackcap is a type of warbler.

If you ask to be served a traditional delicacy in Cyprus, you might end up with a bowl of pickled songbirds, a dish whose continued popularity is leading to some 2 million bird deaths each year in defiance of the law.

Though all forms of songbird trapping have been criminal offenses in Cyprus since 1974, the law is poorly enforced. Poachers on the Mediterranean island use a variety of methods, including playing tape-recorded bird songs to chase their prey into nets, to catch blackcaps and other small migratory species for the traditional dish called ambelopoulia, according to a recent broadcast of the public radio program "The World."

Indiscriminate Trapping Killing Endangered Species
Some traditional methods such as hunting with sap-covered twigs called "limesticks" have been passed down for generations, leading defenders of illegal bird trapping to justify it as part of Cyprus's cultural heritage. But although it "began as a way of supplementing what was once a meager peasant diet," trapping on the island "has become a large-scale, high-tech, lucrative business" to the tune of 15 million euros per year, according to BirdLife Cyprus.

The use of indiscriminate trapping methods on a major migratory flyway means more than 100 types of birds, including endangered species, are getting caught in nets set for common birds such as blackcaps. "The by-catch of other species is enormous: rare shrikes, other warblers, larger birds like cuckoos and golden orioles, even small owls and hawks," novelist and avid birdwatcher Jonathan Franzen wrote in a long piece last year on the subject for The Independent.

Short-Lived Crackdown Due To EU Pressure
Pressure from the European Union led Cyprus to crack down on bird poaching, which was taking a toll of some 10 million birds a year in the 1990s, but the effort was short-lived. "Cyprus is now in the European Union, so there’s been a relaxation," BirdLife Cyprus campaigns manager Martin Hellicar told "The World," saying the EU had not "taken any concrete action to stop the hunt."

According to the conservation group, annual catch numbers, which dropped to 1 million in the early 2000s, climbed back up to 2 million last year and have stayed at that level, a development the Cyprus Mail quoted BirdLife officials describing as a "a major disappointment."

Tags: Animals | Birds

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