I used to be into pollution and climate issues but I went travelling for six months in 2009 and discovered birds. Seeing amazing creatures like the Lilac-breasted roller in Africa triggered birding for me. I bought binoculars, a pocket guide and a notebook!

Tassos Shialis (c) BirdLife Cyprus

Industrial slaughter

Once a traditional practice and food source for poor islanders, bird-trapping in Cyprus has now become a cruel and grisly commercial slaughter with elements of organised crime. Mainly targeting ‘ambelopoulia’ (the species trapped and consumed), trappers use invisible ‘mist nets’ and glue-covered ‘lime sticks’ that indiscriminately kill hundreds of thousands of migratory and wintering birds each year, including lesser whitethroat, finch and song thrush.

Cyprus’ Famagusta region has more bird kills per capita than anywhere else in the Mediterranean, while across the region, the annual death toll is between 11 and 36 million birds.

Since 2007, trapping has increased dramatically – Cyprus alone has over 1,500 sites. History shows we risk ecological catastrophe – the Yellow-breasted bunting population collapsed because of similar rampant trapping on its migration route in China.

awareness raising event BirdLife Cyprus (c) Mat Holloway

Zero tolerance

BirdLife’s campaign involves long-term monitoring – including undercover filming – political advocacy, and outreach with schools and public. Adoption by the Cypriot Parliament in 2015 of a pioneering Strategic Action Plan supported by MAVA is the team’s biggest achievement to date – but one soured by the government’s unilateral inclusion of the ‘alternative plan’, an amendment which allows ‘selective shooting of blackcaps’ as a means to control illegal trapping!

It’s in contravention of the EU Birds & Habitats Directive and risks referral to the EU Court of Justice. Instead of removing it, Parliament has relaxed hunting laws even further! We need a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to trapping but the counter-lobby is very powerful.

First, they ignore you …

Engaging the next generation is key and BirdLife’s ‘153’ campaign drew attention to the number of affected bird species in Cyprus, inspiring children as well as adults to draw or photograph their favourite from among those targeted, and staged an exhibition with prizes that celebrated Cyprus’ unique place in the natural wonder of migration.

153 oiseaux- dessins@Mat Holloway

Sometimes I am disappointed by our slow progress but I find solace in what Gandhi said, ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win’. We’ve reached the fighting stage. In Calabria, my colleagues have finally put an end to Honey buzzard poaching in the Messina Strait. It took more than 25 years of passion and belief.

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Reducing mortality of migratory birds and vultures

Tassos’ campaigning in Cyprus typifies life on the conservation frontline in the Mediterranean, and BirdLife Cyprus is a critical regional force in our partners’ fight against the illegal poaching and hunting of vultures and migratory birds. Read more about MAVA action plan on reducing mortality of birds.

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