One million birds have been illegally killed in just two months on one of the British military bases in Cyprus, causing an enormous ecologic destruction, according to British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). The Society’s international director, Tim Stowe, called the Defense Ministry to do more in order to tackle local poachers, who reportedly took almost 15,000 birds per day during September and October from the British Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area (SBA).
“The report highlights that illegal trapping of songbirds on the British military base has escalated and we are urging the Ministry of Defense and the Base Area authorities to resolve it before this autumn’s migration,” Stowe said to the Guardian. Despite the RSPB warnings though, the Defense Ministry has rejected its findings and questioned the survey methodology: “We do not accept the report’s unverified claims about loss of bird life during this period, which was based upon data collected from a very short period,” an unnamed Defense Ministry spokeswoman said. “We are committed to tackling poaching, which is why we arrested nearly 50 poachers and seized 450 nets and 286 pieces of poaching equipment during the last migration period. When we catch poachers, we can fine them 17,000 euros or send them to prison for up to three years. We continue to work with local organizations to discuss how we can collaborate as effectively as possible,” she added.
On his behalf, RSPB overseas territories team leader Jonathan Hall said the Defense Ministry has signed off on the 12-year-old survey methodology, highlighting that the numbers were conservative. “It is unfortunate to be questioning something they previously accepted. We are confident that the methodology is as robust as we can make it, does allow valid year on year comparisons, and our real priority is to direct energy toward solving the problem,” he stressed.
According to RSPB, the killed birds’ meat is being sold to the black market by organized crime groups. Each autumn, vast numbers of songbirds use Cyprus as a place to rest and feed as they migrate south from Europe to Africa. The majority of the birds captured by poachers are common species, although they also capture rare species including the Cyprus wheatear and Cyprus warbler.
Dhekelia (and Akrotiri), officially the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, is a British Overseas Territory on the island of Cyprus. The Areas, which include bases and other land, were retained by the British under the 1960 treaty of independence, agreed and signed by the United Kingdom, Greece, Turkey and representatives from the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. Dhekelia, or the “Eastern Sovereign Base Area” (ESBA), includes a base at Agios Nikolaos plus parts of twelve village districts.