Conservationists on Friday welcomed the release of a report by the Ombudsman of Cyprus that calls for the enforcement of a zero tolerance policy against illegal bird trapping and describes the island’s poaching industry as a shameless and lucrative organised crime business.
The report was released in answer to complaints by the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) and the Foundation Pro Biodiversity (SPA) against the Ministry of Justice which the groups say has refused to cooperate with international conservation organisations on bird trapping matters since spring 2013.
According to CABS and SPA, after initial successful operations and a number of prosecutions in the main trapping area of Famagusta last year, trappers began to create political pressure. As a result, cooperation with law enforcement agencies of Cyprus was temporarily suspended by the Minister of Justice.
In her report, Ombudsman Eliza Savvidou says the illegal, non-selective and mass trapping of birds in Cyprus is carried out by organised crime circuits motivated purely by the lucrative black market revenues the poaching industry takes in.
“Due to the complexities involved in combating poaching in Cyprus it is necessary that a zero tolerance policy is enforced not just by the government and local authorities but also by non government orgsanisations and hunting associations.”
Savvidou added that poaching laws alone are not sufficient without support from the wider public and targeted groups such as hunters and youths.
“The public is clearly not well enough informed over the environmental importance of obeying European anti bird trapping laws and the fines issued by courts against trappers are not severe enough to discourage them from continuing to break the law and rake in huge profits.”
Commenting on recent court decisions that saw charges of trespassing and conducting malicious against environmental activists dropped, Savvidou warned of the dangers of false impressions.
“The fact that charges were dropped against the activists and fines for the possession and use of illegal bird traps were issued to the poachers who raised the accusations shows that facts are often falsely presented.”
The Ombudsman also stressed the importance of the authorities working alongside activists and environmental groups for positive results.
“Volunteers/activists of various organisations often have very specialised knowledge of conservation matters and are highly competent at conducting field reports and scientific studies. Therefore they have the potential to be useful allies of the authorities in this complex fight against poaching and can support the Ministry of Justice to enforce a zero tolerance policy on illegal bird trapping.”
Speaking to The Cyprus Weekly, BirdLife Cyprus spokesperson Tassos Shiallis welcomed the Ombudsman’s report which he said was released at a critical time and is highly relevant in the ongoing fight against illegal bird trapping.
“A development such as this is important because we are hearing the opinion of an independent body that is agreeing completely with what conservationist organisations have been saying for years.”
He added that the report will be a useful tool in swaying public opinion on poaching if its findings reach a wide audience.
“We are pleased with this development and the Ombudsman’s findings will be used to strengthen the joint strategy environmental organisation are forming along with the authorities to stamp out the illegal slaughter of birds in Cyprus,” he concluded.
According to BirdLife Cyprus data, around two million ampelopoulia, otherwise known as songbirds are slaughtered on the island each year while the indiscriminate nature of the trapping means many rare and threatened species are caught.
While there are only 20 species of birds that are classified as ampelopoulia around 150 species end up as by-catch on lime sticks and in poacher’s mistnets.