Our View: Harsher fines needed to curb poaching

EVERY year, about this time, conservationists initiate campaigns aimed at protecting migratory and resident birds. It is the start of the poaching season, the time when mist nets and limesticks are placed in fields and electronic devices turned on so as to lure ambelopoulia (Blackcaps) flying over Cyprus.

The trapping of Blackcaps though illegal, is lucrative business, worth an estimated €15 million every year. This may be the reason why the authorities had been unsuccessful in stopping the practice and why conservationists launch a new campaign every year. “Exposing the bird killing fields of Cyprus” via the internet is one of this year’s targets.

Activists from the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) are back in Cyprus, pledging to take direct action such as locating, removing and destroying limesticks, mist nets and electronic bird lures. A few months ago, CABS activists who went to Paralmni fields destroying bird-trapping equipment were beaten up and threatened by angry locals. They may have made a point, but most reports focused on the fact that they were trespassing.

It was an indication of our society’s unwillingness to accept that there was anything wrong with bird-trapping, despite the existence of legislation that makes it a criminal offence. People still go to restaurants and pay extortionate prices to eat ambelopoulia, oblivious of the fact that someone broke the law to put the little birds on a plate.

Not so long ago, Famagusta deputies had tried to change the law and make bird-trapping a minor offence punishable by an on-the-spot fine so that the trappers would not have to go to trial and pay a big fine. They did not succeed because the law had been passed under pressure from the EU and the state could not be seen to make life easier for the poachers.

Game wardens have been doing their best to implement the law and an average of 300 cases had been reported every year, but this has not stopped the poachers, because the money they make from law-breaking more than compensates the fines they would have to pay. The fines are probably factored into the selling price. Tougher penalties in the form of prohibitive fines may deter some poachers, but it is highly unlikely that parliament would pass such an amendment to the law a few months before elections.

This is why activists are focusing their attention on putting more pressure on decision-makers by calling on people to sign a petition against poaching. But what more are the authorities expected to do to stop poaching? Are the activists perhaps suggesting that the poachers were given prison sentences? It would be too harsh a penalty, even though it seems to be the only way to stop the poaching.