Massacre on Migration
A Eurasian Blackcap flutters over an olive grove in eastern Cyprus, after an exhausting migration already taking it many hundreds of miles from the colder reaches of Northern Europe. The familiar warbling song of another Blackcap emanates from the trees below, and seeking rest it descends towards the source of the sound. Suddenly it becomes stuck to the branch it lands upon, with feet and wings soon becoming stuck fast to a glue-like substance covering the branch. The familiar Blackcap song was a trick - not coming from another bird at all, but from an electronic recording device placed in the tree to attract this beautiful migrant to its grizzly end. The end destination for this unfortunate Blackcap is on a plate, served up as an illegal delicacy called 'ambelopoulia' and fetching €60 a plateful in parts of Cyprus.
The illegal slaughter of migratory birds is rife across Europe and the Mediterranean.
Each year, it is estimated that 25 MILLION songbirds are illegally killed along the Mediterranean coast, through Northern Europe and into the Caucasus. The drivers of this massacre vary between country, region and species: most are illegally killed for food – culinary delicacies rather than subsistence – and for so-called ‘sport’. The numbers involved are mind boggling, and severely threaten the populations of the species involved - many already threatened or endangered, such as the Eurasian Turtle Dove.
In Cyprus alone, up to 2.6 million birds may be killed annually for the sake of the delicacy 'ambelopoulia' (a dish of boiled songbird). Illegal trappers catch birds on industrial scales using large mist nets and sticks covered in glue, to which the birds become trapped. Whilst it is still a major issue in Cyprus, covert surveillance and effective enforcement led to an immense reduction in illegal trapping on the UK military bases: activity dropped to a 10-year low in 2018, with a 75% reduction in the number of songbirds caught since 2016.
I joined the BirdLife Cyprus team in autumn 2019 to help with their autumn survey of illegal bird trapping activity. This standardised monitoring programme allows them to assess how levels of this barbaric activity are changing, and provides data as evidence for whether enforcement is working in the battle to stem this illegal massacre. Below is a selection of images from those surveys, giving an insight into the issue and what is being done to halt it.