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Cyprus: a holiday island that's a death trap for birds

Last modified: 23 September 2011

Bee-eater in a net

Being the most beautiful bird in Europe, doesn't protect the bee-eater from being a victim of illegal trapping

Cyprus may be regarded as a Mediterranean holiday idyll for those wanting to catch the last of the autumn rays.

But BirdLife Cyprus – the RSPB's BirdLife partner on the island – reckons that for over one third of a million birds the island has been a deathtrap in the first two weeks of September, as the island's illegal bird-trapping season gets into full swing.

The toll has been estimated following BirdLife's field-monitoring of trapping activity with mist nets and limesticks, as part of its ongoing systematic surveillance programme. The birds, including robins and blackcaps, are killed to supply restaurants with the local delicacy ambelopoulia. The autumn trappers target birds which are migrating between Europe and Africa.

'We estimate that, so far this autumn, some 395,000 birds have been killed illegally using mist nets and limesticks in Cyprus. We know that the autumn season is the main trapping period and this number is certain to get much bigger over the next two months, unless decisive action is taken now to back up enforcement efforts', said Martin Hellicar, Campaigns Manager of BirdLife Cyprus.

Shocking slaughter

Tim Stowe is the RSPB's International Director. Commenting on the slaughter, he said: 'Almost 400,000 birds are estimated to have been killed in Cyprus in the first half of September; that's an average of one bird every four seconds.

'This is shocking enough, but the real surprise for many people is the fact that many of these birds will have been killed within a short distance of the island's holiday hotspots, such as Ayia Napa, and a substantial number have been killed inside the UK administered Sovereign Base Areas, especially Dhekelia.

Almost 400,000 birds are estimated to have been killed in Cyprus in the first half of September: an average of one bird every four seconds

'This slaughter is completely illegal under European, Cyprus and Sovereign Base Area law. It beggars belief how Cyprus – a member of the European Union – and the Sovereign Base Area authorities can allow this massacre to continue year after year. It's time that Cyprus and the UK administrations got a grip of this problem before the island becomes the shame of Europe.'

This death toll reported here represents the estimated number of birds killed up to Sunday 19th September 2011. The estimate will be updated on the BirdLife Cyprus website every Monday until the end of October. BirdLife Cyprus has also launched an appeal to gather signatures for a petition to be sent to Cyprus ministers urging them to take action.

In July, the 'European Conference on Illegal Killing of Birds' that took place in Larnaca, concluded with a clear 'zero tolerance' message and an urgent call for appropriate measures to stop the bird slaughter.

BirdLife Cyprus is now calling for words to be turned into action by all competent authorities at all levels. BirdLife is once again calling for decisive action against the restaurants serving the trapped birds, for targeted enforcement against big, organised trapping operations and for tougher sentences for convicted trappers.

In autumn 2010 BirdLife Cyprus estimated that 1.4 million birds were killed by trappers in the Famagusta and Larnaca Districts, an unprecedented death toll resulting in the highest trapping levels recorded since 2002, when BirdLife Cyprus begun its systematic monitoring of trapping activity.

Ecological disaster

'Such levels of trapping constitute an ecological disaster. Non-selective trapping is taking place on a large scale to feed the demand for banned ambelopoulia delicacies.

'We want to communicate the scale of this slaughter to the generally indifferent public in order to make them more aware of the issue and its ecological impact', Martin Hellicar added.

The details of the death toll estimation and the methodology, as well as the petition, can be found on the BirdLife Cyprus website, together with information on why bird trapping with mist nets and limesticks is such a big ecological issue.

Hundreds of thousands of migrant birds are being slaughtered in Cyprus to feed an appetite for illegal delicacies.
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