Britain defends bird-trapping crackdown at Cyprus bases

DHEKELIA, Cyprus — The top law enforcement official for Britain's two military bases on Cyprus said Monday that a yearlong crackdown on illegal bird trapping inside the bases has resulted in a record number of arrests and prosecutions.

Police Chief Constable Chris Eyre pushed back against criticism from conservationists that base authorities haven't done enough to keep the island's birds from falling prey to unauthorized trappers.

Eyre said some 78 court cases have been initiated and more than 1,000 nets have been seized in the past year by the team of a dozen officers who patrol a firing range that's notorious for trapping because it lies along an established migratory bird route.

More than 3,000 birds caught in the nets were also released, he said

Jonathan Hall, a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, agreed that the bases have done well. But to counter "industrial scale" trapping, authorities must also remove acacia trees that provide perfect cover for trappers' nets.

The trapping of small migratory birds — known locally as "ambelopoulia" — feeds a lucrative underground trade among some restaurants that serve them as a delicacy. Conservationists say the trade is the worth millions. Eyre said a plate of a dozen pickled or grilled birds can fetch 60 euros ($64.)

Some Cypriots argue that trapping has been part of island culture for centuries and that the volume of birds caught does not harm migratory patterns.

"This isn't happening because it's Cyprus' culture, it's happening because a few criminals are profiting from it," Eyre told the Associated Press. "This is a large criminal enterprise."

Sgt. Andy Adamou, who heads the anti-trapping team, said nets and sticks slathered with a sticky substance also ensnare endangered bird species.

Adamou said his members of his team have been assaulted by belligerent trappers. Some had even shots fired at their feet while their police vehicles have been rammed.

He said trappers are also taking advantage of technology to evade capture, like using remotely-activated, digital audio devices that mimic bird calls to attract birds.

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