By Michael Theodoulou
The robin's tiny heart thumped as it cried out. A policeman was tenderly extricating its feet and tail from a net, snipping the fine mesh with scissors.
He then held the red-breasted bird aloft and it soared into a cobalt sky as dawn broke over Dhekelia, a British military base on Cyprus's southeastern coast.
"The trappers think they are smarter than us, but we're cleverer than them," said Inspector Theodoulos Kousiounos, 59, lighting a cigarette with satisfaction.
Mr Kousiounos is a veteran police officer, working for the British base, who led that morning's 12-man Operation Freedom raid against rampant illegal bird trapping.
They saved 40 birds, made two arrests, and confiscated trapping paraphernalia.
But while they may well be smarter than the trappers, Mr Kousiounos says his unit is not large enough to eradicate the scourge. He estimates that there are some 100 ever-shifting trapping sites in Dhekelia - which covers 130.8 square kilometres - while his men can raid no more than a handful on any given morning.
And there are countless more sites outside the base in the Republic of Cyprus where a new police anti-poaching unit, working with Game Fund officers, is involved in a similarly Sisyphean struggle against trappers.
Conservationists say Cyprus is Europe's biggest per capita killer of migratory birds. They end up fried or pickled. More....