Organized Crime in Cyprus Kills Over 400,000 Songbirds


A recent report has revealed a grim reality: over 400,000 songbirds were trapped and slaughtered in Cyprus during the autumn of 2023, marking a distressing surge in wildlife crime. The findings, compiled by BirdLife Cyprus with Support from the RSPB and the Committee Against Birds Slaughter (Cabs), shed light on an ongoing issue that threatens the region’s avian population.

Operating in organized networks, criminals deploy decoys and birdcall speakers to attract a variety of small birds, including species of robins and sparrows. Once lured into bushes or orchards, mist nets or glue-covered branches ensnare the unsuspecting birds, destined to be sold clandestinely to restaurants. These establishments offer the birds as a local delicacy known as “ambelopoulia,” served either pickled or boiled.

The staggering numbers revealed in the report—435,000 birds killed in autumn 2023 alone—underscore the urgent need for sustained enforcement efforts. While Conservation initiatives had previously contributed to a decline in bird trapping incidents over the past decade, the recent spike serves as a stark reminder of the fragility of progress.

Cyprus, a pivotal stopover for migratory birds traveling between Europe and Africa, plays a crucial role in avian Conservation. Species such as blackcaps, flycatchers, chiffchaffs, and willow warblers fall prey to the traps, compounding declines observed across their range.

Martin Hellicar, Director of BirdLife Cyprus, emphasized the critical role of enforcement resources in combating such crimes. He stated, “Despite the very good progress made in recent years, this autumn was a reminder that this can be quickly reversed if enforcement resources are not maintained.”

Despite legislative measures banning bird trapping since 1974, the illegal trade persists on an industrial scale. Tragically, the British military base in Cyprus, the Sovereign Base Area (SBA), witnessed a 41% increase in trapping activity, revealing the complex challenges of enforcement across the diverse jurisdictions island.

Mark Thomas, head of RSPB investigations, said, “We cannot allow the progress we have made to be undone and the shocking levels of songbird killings to return to the abhorrent levels we once saw. For two decades, our international partnership has shown that we can work together to tackle this criminal activity through direct action on the ground backed up by enforcement action.”

Efforts to combat bird trapping extend beyond law enforcement, encompassing public awareness campaigns aimed at fostering a culture of Conservation. BirdLife Cyprus, in partnership with stakeholders, endeavors to shift societal attitudes from consumption to protection, recognizing the intrinsic value of avian diversity.

This article by Trinity Sparke was first published by One Green Planet on 10 March 2024. Image Credit : Gallinago_media/Shutterstock.

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