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Mar 13, 2015

Poachers and Ambelopoulia may lead to extinction of rare birds in Cyprus

Photo: Birdlife International
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has rattled some cages and they are not birdcages. According to the RSPB, over 900,000 birds were illegally killed in just two months on a British military base in Cyprus in 2014.   The RSPB's international director has called on the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to do more more to stop local poachers, who, according to reports, took 15,000 birds every day during September and October from British Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area (SBA).   The report highlights that illegal trapping of songbirds on the base has dramatically escalated and is urging the MoD authorities to resolve the crisis before the 2015 autumn migration.
But the MoD rejected the RSPB's findings and questioned the methodology of the survey.   RSPB overseas territories leader Jonathon Hall said the MoD had signed off on the 12-year-old survey's methods and that likely the numbers were conservative, adding that it was unfortunate to be questioning something which was previously accepted.   The MoD declared it had arrested nearly 50 poachers during the last migration period. Each autumn, millions of songbirds use Cyprus to rest and feed on their way from Europe to Africa.   For centuries, Cypriots have hunted the birds during migration to make a local dish called Ambelopoulia (pictured below). 
Traditionally, the trapping used branches covered in sticky lime that birds would land on and be unable to escape.   Then the invention of large indiscriminate netting techniques that could capture thousands of birds, including threatened species, led to the outlawing of both Ambelopoulia dish and the hunting in 1974.   Most of the birds trapped by poachers are common species such as robin and blackcap and their capture has a negligible effect on their conservation, but the RSPB declares the practice is a real problem because of the rare species captured, such as the Cyprus Wheatear and the Cyprus Warbler (pictured below).   The RSPB has suggested the Ministry of Defence is loathe to come down too hard on poachers because it will antagonize the local community, which presumably houses many of the poachers.

Cyprus Wheatear ~ Photo by Reinhild Waschkies

Cyprus Warbler ~ Photo by Daniele Occhiato

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