ENVIRONMENT: CYPRUS; THE MASSACRE OF MIGRATORY BIRDS

THOUSAND OF BIRDS KILLED FOR ILLEGAL FOOD EVERY YEAR

27 September, 09:23

(ANSA) - NICOSIA, SEPTEMBER - At least 400,000 small migratory birds (mostly blackcaps, chaffinches, robins, but also hoopoes and streaked fantail warblers) were illegally killed in Cyprus during the first two weeks of September, in order to be cooked as delicacies in the island's restaurants at prices rocketing to up 80 euros for a portion of 12 birds. This cruel habit has already generated an illegal market worth millions of euros every year, but also an environmental disaster which neither Europe nor the local government seem to be willing to stop. This bloodshed of nearly biblical scale (last year, the number of "victims" was estimated at 1,400,000) was exposed once again by Martin Hellicar, the head of Cyprus environmental protection organization "BirdLife Cyprus". The environmental protection organization has just published its last report, written jointly with the Royal Society for the Protection of birds. The report was, as usual, sent to the Council of Europe Environment Committee, to the European Commission and to the Government of Cyprus. (The report can be found on the website: http://www.birdlifecyprus.org/) Migrating birds fly over Cyprus twice a year (between March and April and between August and September). Hunting them is officially forbidden by law but poachers (who are mainly hunters and previous offenders) can act undisturbed, using large, thinly-knitted nets placed on trees or sticks or branches soaked in sticky liquid and hidden in bushes. These cruel devices cause the birds' slow death: the bird is caught in the net and dies of either thirst of starvation. These birds are known in Greek-Cypriot kitchen as "ambelopoulia'' (little wine-yard birds); they are one of the island's most controversial traditional dishes. Theoretically, this food is forbidden by law; actually, local authorities tend to pretend not to see when it comes to the little birds. The birds are usually fried and eaten as finger food or wrapped in grape leaves and then kept in vinegar to be eaten later on. Some even maintain that "ambelopoulia'' is an aphrodisiac, although this was never proved. "These levels of poaching-Hellicar maintains-are indeed an environmental disaster, because in order to provide the illegal ambelopoulia market with birds, hunting is carried out indiscriminately on a vast scale''. BirdLife Cyprus activists have found birds of 122 species (58 of them are in European and international lists of endangered species) caught in the sticky nets and tree-branches of Greek-Cypriot poachers. The poacher gets 3-4 euros per bird; however, many caught birds are not even edible, so they are simply thrown away. Ambelopoulia lovers maintain that this dish is one of the most ancient Cypriot traditions and must not disappear. However, as stated by the Under Secretary of the Justice Ministry Petros Kareklas , "In the past this used to be a mean of support for Cypriot families.

Today, it is only a huge illegal market". Last July, the European Conference on Illegal Killing of Birds was organized-not by chance-in the city of Larnaca. More than 100 experts from several European countries took part in it. The works were closed by the request of "zero-tolerance" for poaching and an appeal to all European and local competent authorities to act in order to put an end to the massacre.

Unfortunately, according to figures just provided by BirdLife Cyprus, no one seems to get the message. (ANSAmed).

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