A conservation group in Cyprus said Wednesday that police have been lax in cracking down on criminal gangs that illegally trap migratory songbirds to supply restaurants, although the poaching has declined overall.
Tassos Shialis, a spokesperson for conservation group BirdLife Cyprus, said that even though the war on songbird poaching generally is being won, gangs with links to the country’s criminal underworld continue to make “serious money by trapping on an industrial scale” and are doing so “with impunity.”
According to the group’s 2022 report, trapping last year dropped by as much as a half in the survey area, down to about 345,000 birds killed. But Shialis told The Associated Press that there are still up to 15 major trapping sites that use mist nets – fine mesh suspended between two poles – to catch the birds.
Some restaurant patrons consider songbirds to be a delicacy. A dozen of the birds go for as much as 150 euros ($159), Shialis said.
Fines of 2000 euros ( $2120 ) for using mist nets have deterred many trappers, but authorities aren’t targeting big-time poachers in part because of a lack of clarity between the national police and the Game and Fauna Service over which agency takes the lead in those cases, Shialis said.
Spokesman Christos Andreou told the AP that the Cyprus Police force and its newly reassembled anti-poaching unit stood ready to support any anti-poaching operations by “relevant authorities,” including the Game and Fauna Service. The Game and Fauna Service chief, Pantelis Hadjiyerou, said questions about enforcement should be directed to the police.
Alexandra Attalides, a lawmaker with the Cyprus Greens Party, said she thinks authorities are fearful of taking on poachers – some of whom have threatened the lives of police officers – when the criminal underworld is firmly rooted in the lucrative trade.
Attalides also maintained that some politicians may be protecting the poachers to curry favor with them.
BirdLife is also petitioning Cypriot authorities to increase the maximum fine for using lime-sticks – twigs slathered with a glue-like substance that ensnares birds – back to 2,000 euros ($2,121), from the current 200 euros ($212).