Monday, 1 December 2014

Our Manu in Cyprus – fighting back for birds


Last August, while looking for a job in one of the websites I regularly visit, I saw a heading that drew my attention immediately: "Migratory Birds Conservation on Cyprus Volunteers".
As a conservation biologist and a keen birdwatcher, I'm well aware of illegal bird trapping all around the Mediterranean area, so I decided to send an e-mail asking for information. A few days later I had already booked the flights.

I arrived at Larnaca International Airport on 8th October at 20:55, and Edith and Gabriel were already waiting for me. About fifty minutes later we met Paulina at home, a nice lodge in Protaras.
 Protaras coast.

Edith Loosli cleaning a female Blackcap

Edith Loosli is the camp organizer and MBCC founder, a Swiss woman who has been fighting against illegal bird trapping in Cyprus for more than 20 years. Gabriel and Paulina, from the USA and Bulgaria, were the other volunteers.

Our everyday work consisted in patrolling the Southeastern Peninsula and Cape Gkreko areas, looking for illegal bird trappers. 

Coast at Cape Gkreko National Park.

We used to work chiefly at night and around sunrise and sunset for two main reasons: 1) it's still really hot in Cyprus in October and 2) the trappers know both Edith and MBCC's work, so we had to be very cautious not to be discovered.
Fortunately, Cypriot landscape is very bushy and we usually were able to spy on the trappers from a quite short distance.
A tree ready for illegal bird trapping! Note the wooden steps and the lime sticks.

Using this procedure, we managed to collect 278 lime sticks, confiscate 3 decoy devices and save 17 birds in the time I spent in Cyprus (until 25th October). Most birds were Blackcaps (13), but we also rescued 3 Willow Warblers and a lonely Reed Warbler.

The question here is: "what do they trap the birds for?" I would say that there are two kind of trappers: 1) the small ones, who want to hunt just a few birds for their own consumption, and 2) the big ones, who want to catch as many birds as possible in order to get money. The latter sell the birds to restaurants, where they are served as a dish called ambelopoulia, and are the most dangerous. It's easy to find plenty of information about this disgusting delicatessen on Google.
Coast at Cape Gkreko National Park.

I think that it's really important to say that police is very reluctant to cooperate, so we usually did our work independently, and only turned to police when the situation was especially risky or when there was a big chance of catching the trapper red-handed.

That said, I'd like to emphasise that Cyprus has not only illegal bird trappers and corrupt police, but many kind people, plenty of astonishing landscapes and countless interesting birds (I got seven lifers!) 
Starred Agama.

Juvenile Masked shrike
Crimson  Speckled Moth

Below you can find a link to the last MBCC report:
If any of you have any interest in taking part in a future camp, please let me know.

All the best! 

Manu Santa-Cruz


laura bimson said...

Beware reading the MBCC bird report, the slaughter of the Bee eaters will make you weep.

Ann Tomo said...

Well done Manu, it's people like you who will hopefully bring an end to this horrible slaughter in future.

Thanks Ann

RSPB Liverpool Local Group. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no' 207076, Scotland no. SC037654 said...

Well done Manu its an important story that needs to be brought to the wider community.