Tiny migrant warblers can be heard squealing as hefty bird trappers pull them from nets and kill them with knives to satisfy the tastebuds of fine diners.
Bird trapping is big business on Cyprus where a single bird can sell for £6 once it has been plucked, pickled or fried for a dish known as ambelopoulia.
One of the most popular places to catch birds such as robins, blackcaps and other small warblers for the dining table is on the Ministry of Defence’s Sovereign Base Area near the holiday resort of Ayia Napa.
As many as 800,000 songbirds were killed by gangsters on the MoD base last year.
A joint initiative between the SBA Police and specialist RSPB investigators has now seen eight men fined for intentionally and systematically killing wild birds after they were trapped red-handed by covert cameras.
During seven separate operations, 19 individuals were secretly filmed catching birds in mist nets strung between bushes and then killing the birds with knives before tossing the bodies into bags, the RSPB reported today.
The conservation charity released details of three of the operations – codenamed Jasmin, Jar and Jumbo – which saw a total of eight men receiving fines totalling 13,800 euros. Two also received suspended prison sentences.
Operation Jar took place within a large patch of acacia containing several active trapping sites, with the covert camera showing three men beating the bushes with long poles. The footage recorded more than 25 birds being caught and killed from the main net over three days.
In Operation Jasmin, covert cameras were set up on two sites and showed up to three men involved in bird trapping on two days. They were recorded shouting in order to flush migrant birds into the mist nets. The footage showed more than 40 birds being caught and killed from the two nets.
Operation Jumbo cameras recorded two men trapping for three days with around 20 birds caught and killed.
RSPB senior investigations officer Guy Shorrock praised the collaborative work with the SBA Police and said it was great to apply methods developed in the UK to tackle the serious bird trapping problems on Cyprus.
He added: “The graphic footage obtained shows the callous actions of the trappers. These fines are substantially higher than average and the long suspended sentence puts two of the men in a very serious position should they decide to continue trapping.
“We hope the sentences given by the courts will deter the trappers from using the base area and make it easier for further acacia clearance to be undertaken. Thesetrees are planted to create an artificial habitat for birds expressly to attract and then trap them. Clearing the acacia is urgently needed to significantly reduce levels of illegal trapping.”
For BirdLife Cyprus, the deterrent sentences recognise how bird trapping is a serious wildlife crime.
Its director Martin Hellicar said: “We are pleased with the outcome of our collaboration with the RSPB and the SBA Police, which was the first of its kind in Cyprus.
“Illegal bird trapping is a persistent problem and we need such deterrent as handed out by the Dhekelia SBA Court today, which recognise that this is a serious wildlife crime. We hope that more deterrent fines and the continuation of the acacia clearance programme will help to significantly reduce the levels of illegal bird trapping in the SBAs.
“At the same time, we BirdLife Cyprus will continue pushing hard for action against law breaking restaurants serving trapped birds in the Republic and also with our education efforts in schools and beyond, with the aim of reducing the demand that drives the bird killing.”