NICOSIA – Cypriot and British officials have failed to stop the trapping for slaughter and eating of millions of songbirds – a delicacy on the island – on a British military base, the conservation group BirdLife charged.
The group said March 16 as many as 2.3 million songbirds were killed last year in Cyprus, a stopover on a key migratory route between Europe and Africa.
Trapping is illegal, but it is estimated to be worth some 15 million euros ($16 million) annually. Birds caught are served fried, grilled, poached or pickled in a practice long decried by conservationists but overlooked by successive governments because the birds are such as popular dish and served openly in restaurants despite the law.
The practice is thought to be particularly prevalent in the island’s southeast, part of which is under administration by Britain, Cyprus’s former colonial ruler.
“This wildlife crime is taking place both in the Republic of Cyprus and the (British) Sovereign Base Areas, making it very clear that a joint effort is necessary to address this persistent issue,” BirdLife said.
Authorities at the British bases have in recent years cleared low-lying forest areas planted by locals to lure songbirds and Cypriot authorities have conducted raids that have failed to slow the captures.
More than 800,000 were killed on the British military territory that extends for around 100 square kilometers, the BBC reported. Criminal gangs are thought to earn huge sums from the trade.
Along with the British bases, the survey covered the popular holiday destination areas of Famagusta and Larnaca along with Ayios Theodorus – Maroni.
The poachers have found that the most efficient way of trapping birds is to use a “mist net” strung between acacia bushes, an invasive species that spreads like a weed and is the right height and density to make an inviting roosting spot.
Fake birdsong is played from MP3 players hidden in the branches which deceives the birds into thinking it’s a safe place, the BBC said and the birds then fly straight into the near-invisible net. One net can trap 400 birds. Getting rid of the bushes would make it very difficult to set effective traps.
The report criticized the British military authorities for not pressing ahead with plans to clear acacia bushes from the territory. An operation to remove the bushes was stopped after a protest last year when trucks were used to blockade the main road in and out of the base.