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May 14, 2015

Cyprus recruits Barn Owls to protect carob trees

Photo: Reuters/New Sunday Times
Photo by Yioannis Kourtoglou
Photo by Borneo Bulletin/Reuters
Photo by Reuters
Barn Owls and black snakes are being enlisted in Cyprus to protect ancient Carob Trees, once a flourishing export but now threatened by rats and urbanization.   Since April of this year, conservationists at centuries old groves have been laying barn-owl nests and planning reptile nests, primarily for the non-poisonous black snake.   The plan is to trade poison for natural predators to keep rat populations  in check and prevent tree damage.  Historically and culturally, the carob is significant in Cyprus, plus it is an important income source.  In the 1960s its crop, the locust pod, averaged 53,000 tonnes a year, now its down to 9,000 tonnes.   Pod seeds are used to make locust bean gum, a widely used thickening agent in food.   Cyprus's carob bean production has dwindled as the country's economy has moved from being agriculturally based to a financial services centre.   Meanwhile, rats continue to strip the carob trees of their bark, slowly killing the trees.   Poison creates more problems than it cures, so rat control will now be handled more naturally.   A pair of barn owls can kill up to 3,000 rats per year.   A similar solution has worked extremely well in other mid-eastern and south-east Asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, where rat poison costs are greatly reduced and the number of Barn Owls have soared by the thousands.
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