July 20, 2024

Cyprus's Songbird Massacre: The Politics of Food



Published May 14, 2023, 10:20 a.m. by Naomi Charles


The cypriot songbird massacre is a tragic event that unfolded on the island of cyprus in the spring of 2018. Thousands of birds, including songbirds, were killed in a brutal fashion, their bodies left to rot in the sun. The incident caused outrage among animal lovers and conservationists around the world, and raised questions about the politics of food production.

The cypriot songbird massacre is a tragic event that unfolded on the island of cyprus in the spring of 2018. Thousands of birds, including songbirds, were killed in a brutal fashion, their bodies left to rot in the sun. The incident caused outrage among animal lovers and conservationists around the world, and raised questions about the politics of food production.

The cypriot songbird massacre is a tragic event that unfolded on the island of cyprus in the spring of 2018. Thousands of birds, including songbirds, were killed in a brutal fashion, their bodies left to rot in the sun. The incident caused outrage among animal lovers and conservationists around the world, and raised questions about the politics of food production.

The cypriot songbird massacre is a tragic event that unfolded on the island of cyprus in the spring of 2018. Thousands of birds, including songbirds, were killed in a brutal fashion, their bodies left to rot in the sun. The incident caused outrage among animal lovers and conservationists around the world, and raised questions about the politics of food production.

The cypriot songbird massacre is a tragic event that unfolded on the island of cyprus in the spring of 2018. Thousands of birds, including songbirds, were killed in a brutal fashion, their bodies left to rot in the sun. The incident caused outrage among animal lovers and conservationists around the world, and raised questions about the politics of food production.

The cypriot songbird massacre is a tragic event that unfolded on the island of cyprus in the spring of 2018. Thousands of birds, including songbirds, were killed in a brutal fashion, their bodies left to rot in the sun. The incident caused outrage among animal lovers and conservationists around the world, and raised questions about the politics of food production.

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[MUSIC]

>> This is about the slaughter of

Europe's birds passing through Cyprus.

If you go out into the killing fields, yes,

you'll find older people doing it but,

you'll also find younger people doing it.

Same with drugs,

while there's money to be made out of it,

people are going to get into.

[MUSIC]

There's a war going on here in Cyprus,

a war between the old and the new.

Between Europeans and Cypriots.

Between wild life activists and

professional poachers.

They're both fighting for

the same thing, the songbirds.

While one side is trying to eat them,

the other side is trying to save them.

[MUSIC]

>> This is about a clash of cultures.

When Cyprus joined the EU, local law

tightened around the trapping of songbirds.

But many saw this as an attack on the heritage of

a small nation that's forever been fighting for

it's sovereignty.

Far from the crime disappearing, instead it

moved on to British occupied territory.

And what was

once a local tradition quickly developed into

an underground industry worth millions of Euros.

>> I think to describe it as a war,

it's fair enough.

And if I'm honest, the bowman sadly,

is a war that we're losing.

[SOUND]

[MUSIC]

>> On the side of those trying to

interrupt poaching are a set of

international environmental activists

who come to Cyprus each migration period.

>> It's just a little bit further and

then we can walk.

>> Andrea Rutigliano leads

the coalition against bird slaughter, a group

who use direct action to achieve their aim.

[MUSIC]

At 6 in the morning, we meet up.

And he takes me to a well known trapping area to

witness first hand the slaughter of songbirds.

[MUSIC]

So I'm trying to hear a decoy.

Now that's it's daylight,

you can hear loads of birds sounds.

He's got an amazing ear.

Can hear the difference between what's decoy and

what's a real bird.

[MUSIC]

Among all of the sounds,

you heard that from about 250 meters away?

>> Yeah, so yeah.

[SOUND] It's a lot of training, but

it's like your brain reacts like.

[SOUND] Just eight in the evening.

>> So what we're hearing now is completely false.

[SOUND].

>> Yeah, I wouldn't-

>> Is there's a bird in there?

There's a bird there.

>> [BLEEP] Yeah.

[SOUND].

>> It's a decoy?

[SOUND] I mean, this is the first bird that

we've seen, which has been trapped, like this.

[SOUND] It's, I mean,

it's absolutely shocking to see this bird.

[MUSIC]

So he's lost a few feathers, he's still got,

has he still got his legs?

He's still okay and [INAUDIBLE].

>> This is about capture.

This is-

>> Yeah.

>> Exactly what-

>> The target species.

>> This is the target species from

ambelopoulia.

This is what people in Cyprus want to eat.

He is beautiful.

>> Yeah.

[MUSIC]

>> The poacher's clearly gone in here.

Found a bird on limestick.

Slit his throat basically and that's the blood from

where the bird's basically been killed.

The poacher's around here.

We just saw them, just on the briar on

the hill over there sort of just wandering off.

According to Andrea,

the poacher won't be confrontational on

this situation, because this is public land.

So he'd never be able to say,

this is my tree that you're interrupting.

[MUSIC]

>> And here you see.

The technique is they use a great area for birds.

Then they found a Junipers bush, which is

the best and they trim it in a way, so they can put

limesticks in the most possible horizontal way.

And these are good to catch birds.

>> That's an obvious stick for

that bird to go and perch on.

And this, this method,

this is completely illegal, is that right?

>> This is completely illegal.

This is particular species not

Lesser Whitethroat is also endangered.

Keep going off on both side.

All right.

[SOUND] The lesser Whitethroat is fine.

Perfect.

The more they try to release themselves,

the more they get stuck to the lime.

[MUSIC]

Okay.

>> Let's free him.

>> Good flight.

[SOUND].

>> Altogether, we found five birds in

this bush not all of them were the black caps,

the target species.

Others were more endangered,

such as the Lesser Whitethroat.

[MUSIC]

I mean, these are all out of just one tree.

There's about 20 lime sticks here and it's so

sticky this stuff.

[SOUND] I mean, I can't even pull it apart.

[MUSIC]

Have you recorded this one before?

>> I had 2A2 farther this way.

So this actually new plan, new point.

>> So this is a new one?

>> Yeah. >> So

what you gonna do now?

>> Yeah, well when I'm back home in the, in the

laptop I will pinpoint this trapping site.

>> This is what Andrea today.

>> Yeah, but only one day 60 days

the poacher >> Mm-hm.

The economic situation is quite bad and lots of

people are unemployed and unemployment's rising.

And it seems that people have turned to

poaching as a way of making money.

>> It's like, you know, it's like when you,

when you like doing something and

you as long as the risks are not high enough,

you just keep on doing.

It's a,

a meal you're used to, you're imprinted.

You have eaten,

been eating this since you were a child.

So from why,

human point of view, I can even understand them.

The, the point is if every human being behaves

like that, just keeping doing what they do

without considering the whole picture,

we'll destroy the planet in five to ten years.

[MUSIC]

>> A major barrier for anyone attempting to

eliminate the trapping of songbirds is that it's

not simply an underground business enterprise, but

also a cultural tradition.

I heard a town where ambelopoulia is in

high demand is Paralimni, so

I headed there to meet some locals who've been

trapping birds all their lives.

[MUSIC]

We kill our goats and eat them, our lambs,

our chicken, our rabbit, we kill all of those.

And they have a problem with Ambelopoulia,

which is a good mezze and

also provided a good income, way back then.

We had people here in Paralimni that would send

their children to study,

they would build their houses at the time,

it cost six selinia, 30 pence a dozen.

Today, they say that they sell it for 40 and

they can't sell it,

because it's not marketable.

But so, what if they can sell it?

People today are hungry.

People are in misfortune.If

they sell it and get 5,10 or

50 pound, who's that hurting?

>> They should try and sort this out,

before it's too late.

>> The Cyprus is among the poorest countries in

Europe and many here believe the country got

a raw deal from Brussels when it's economy needed

recovering after the financial crash.

Instead of being offered a bail out as

it's Mediterranean neighbors were,

a bail in was designed, but the experiment has

done little to stabilize the country's economy.

[SOUND] For some locals,

trapping birds on top of being the tradition has

always provided an extra source of income.

[SOUND] So even though in Cyprus,

it seems that ambelopoulia eating and

poaching is extremely common.

It's been incredibly hard to find somebody to

actually show us how to do it, basically.

Anyway, we have done and

we're on our way to meeting someone who's

gonna show us the traditional method of

catching birds using limesticks.

[MUSIC]

We've come to farm where we can't reveal it, but

these are clearly men of the land here.

They have been making these sticks for

probably as long as they can remember, but

this is a farm basically.

[SOUND] And so just like any other bird or

anything else that you harvest, I think

that's their attitude towards limesticking.

They've got a, they've got

the micshawberries from the tree here.

Translates as snot, it's basically just sticky

insides of a berry.

[NOISE] Which they've then mixed with some

preservatives and some honey.

[MUSIC]

And basically, it looks like he's sort of

beating a batter together, basically.

[NOISE] [INAUDIBLE].

[MUSIC] It looks like

he's making bread or something.

[MUSIC]

It's incredible watching them do this process of

covering this stick.

It took about one second to do that entire stick,

but it's a two-man job it seems.

So one person holds it and the other person just

stretches it out over the stick.

They then put it on the glass, which is hot,

which makes the glue set.

This is the micshawberry,

which basically the basis of the limestick.

Squeeze out the middle and

it's perfectly edible.

In fact, people believe here that it's good for

indigestion.

[LAUGH].

[LAUGH].

>> [FOREIGN].

>> I feel like I have a mouth full of phlegm.

That is what it's like,

it's a mouthful of phlegm.

[CROSSTALK] [LAUGH] I don't,

I don't know what's going on,

I think I've been tricked.

>> [FOREIGN].

>> And I've stuck my tongue to

the roof of my mouth.

But basically look at it, that's what comes out.

It does look like you've gobbed in your own mouth,

basically.

What is that the groves are here,

the micshawberry grow on the trees.

And then use those berries to then make this

glue and it's basically just someone's backyard.

You can imagine this is happening in every single

plot, basically around the entire country side.

[MUSIC]

But there's also an organized site of

this crime.

[SOUND] And the commercial supply of this

delicacy, now happens on parts of the island where

local police have no jurisdiction.

[SOUND].

[MUSIC]

Cyprus once a British colony,

achieved independence in 1960.

However, in the agreement,

Britain retained two large areas of the island

for strategic use by the military.

>> Were just bird lovers at the beginning,

wanted to-

>> Andrea believes industrial slaughter of

songbirds is happening solely on

British sovereign territory.

He and his cabs colleagues venture onto

the bases each night to look for

evidence of poaching.

[MUSIC]

I'm putting on a bullet proof vest,

cuz apparently Andrea has been shot at from

quite a few times when he's gone out and done

these sort of missions in the middle of the night.

So for safety, I'm not trying to be macho.

I'm just putting on a bullet proof vest in

case we get shot at tonight.

Andrea, what are we doing tonight.

>> Okay. We're,

we're going to listen for

decoys to see the scale of the phenomenon and

if possible, we will try to approach mat or

a mismatching site.

>> So you like to sort of

almost informants for the or-

>> Yeah. So you

providing intelligence to police.

>> Right. Scoulting war,

what do you call it.

>> Scoulting war.

I mean, shouldn't that be trouble for

the police, though?

>> Well, we optimized their time.

They don't have they don't take so

much man power.

From the satellite, you can see the size,

the magnitude of [INAUDIBLE].

>> It's enormous.

>> It's enormous, it's amazing.

It's-

>> And each year, each migration period in

this area, how many birds get trapped?

>> We can, we can talk about, I think,

1 million at least only in this area.

>> One million. And

is this British sovereign area?

>> Yeah, this is British sovereign area.

>> This is happening on British soil, basically.

>> Yeah, yeah. That's why, the main

point here is that Britain is responsible

for the biggest chopping site in the whole world.

>> So this is, this has got nothing to do

with tradition.

>> No, no, no. This is a huge business.

We're talking about 15 million Euros involving

gangs, people with gangs.

These are people who are, who are not,

who are ready to, to shoot and

kill if someone disturbs their business.

[SOUND].

>> Hence, why I've got this on.

>> That's why you have this on.

But I've been shot at a couple of times in

this area in the night.

These people have

full control over this efficiently.

This is about legality.

This is about laws, the, the,

the rule of laws inside.

[NOISE] And it's amazing that

Britain tolerates something like this year.

[MUSIC]

>> The activist's intelligence led us

deeper into British territory.

As a seasoned scout, Andrea wasn't phased as

we drove alongside the military satellites.

Although, I was finding it hard to believe,

we were even able to get so close.

>> Don't slam the door.

>> Everything we can hear now, that's all decoys.

>> Yes.

These are Blackcaps that don't see in the night.

They don't see It's only done to get the birds

down from the sky.

>> And so you reckon down here,

there might be some nets.

>> Yeah, there will be probably nets.

>> Right.

[MUSIC]

We followed our arrays,

which led us across a dust bowl and

into an orchard.

Despite Andrea's experienced,

it didn't make me feel any safer about going on

to someone's private land.

[SOUND]

[MUSIC]

[SOUND]

[MUSIC]

[SOUND]

Nothing that

we're

hearing now

is real

birds.

This is all decoys.

This is a fake noise, basically.

It's being pumped out of a loud speaker.

It's been recorded and the sole purpose is to

attract birds to where this net is.

It's very sinister.

[SOUND]

[MUSIC]

So we've just come out of an orchard there,

which is basically a stone's throw from

what's behind us.

Andrea and

the camp's lot has taken down four industrial size

nets that clearly were just going up.

They've released two birds that were in there.

But basically, they got them just before dawn

when those nets will be full basically.

And that's where all the birds are going here.

I wondered how the poachers were

operating with such impunity.

Was this local crime too trivial for

the military base police?

When the purpose of their presence there is purely

for matters of British national security.

[NOISE]

[MUSIC]

We're on our way to meet a divisional commands of

the Sovereign Bay police.

We're going to talk to him about they go

about policing what is essentially a culture and

how they police a culture that's not

there, basically.

So explain to me the role of the SBA police in

this, in Cyprus?

>> The SBA police, police in areas is in the same

way that the several police back in the UK,

cover their particular areas.

We have responsibility for all both inside

the galaxy station and then the local community.

So we are in effect several police for

the area.

>> It's been illegal since the 1970s?

>> Yes.

>> Why does the culture of eating ambelopoulia

and I suppose, the crime of poaching them

still take place on quite a prolific scale.

>> I think traditionally,

it was acceptable [INAUDIBLE] to take a few

birds for the family table.

Things have changed enormously.

Trappers can make between 30, 40, 50,000 Euros.

Tax fee, criminally and a season, trapping these

birds and passing them onto restaurants to

sell and retail through Cyprus.

>> I mean, how hard is it to police a culture?

>> Very, very difficult.

I mean, you don't think you can police a culture,

particularly when you are in

many senses a guest within the country.

You know, I ,I, I don't think it's for

the police to impose the culture.

We do what we can educationally.

>> Would you say that in order to be able to keep

community relationships strong, as guests here

just to use your words in this country, you need to

respect the fact that this is a cultural crime.

>> I don't think that at all.

I think where you'll find is that although this

is accepted culturally by some sections of

the community.

A recent, a recent poll showed that about 70% of

the [INAUDIBLE] were against the practice of

trapping.

>> Having already found evidence for

myself that trapping goes on British soil.

The officer's acknowledgement that

he's a guest on the island, left me

feeling that his ability to take action was

somewhat compromised by his post colonial status.

I went to talk to BirdLife Cyprus,

a local organization to get their view on

the matter.

Can you tell my why trapping birds seems to

be allowed to take place on [INAUDIBLE].

>> Yeah. It does seem to be

allowed, doesn't it?

Part of the answer may be is that there's always

been the policy with the British sovereign bases

of turning a blind eye to things that might annoy

the ro, local residents who are in the basis.

>> The argument is that this is part of

Cyprus culture?

>> Hm.

>> And people in Cyprus are continuing this for

500 years.

>> All true.

But it, it's true, it's a traditional practice.

It's a traditional practice gone crazy in

terms of the scale of it.

You can't compare what was happening 50

years ago in Cyprus with a few people putting up

some limesticks.

And this is the image that people still have in

their minds when their reading them.

They have the image of

a little old man setting some limesticks.

What's the harm in that?

That's not the reality on the ground.

The reality is completely different.

The other point is that 50,000 years ago,

these birds were far more abundant.

They just weren't facing all

the other pressures that they are facing today.

[MUSIC]

>> So we're now on our way to

meet a professional poacher.

This is entire living basically out of

catching songbirds.

He's told us he does it both ways, he does it

the traditional limestick way.

But because he makes his living out of it,

he also does it in the industrial way.

He's gonna remain anonymous,

because if he's caught this activity could land

him with a prison sentence.

But he has also said that he is willing to show us

how and hopefully, why he chooses to do this.

[MUSIC]

[NOISE] And in proceedings got a true,

he knows over the years.

Here's a good one.

[MUSIC]

So this looks like,

it's basically perfectly designed.

He's got two poles at either end and

this net in the bag would stretches just

perfectly to, to either side.

[NOISE] I can't imagine how'd you start to

even police this, because we are in

the absolute middle of nowhere.

We've driven for miles.

They are only, it, the land is so flat.

So anyone that was coming,

you'd be able to see them from a mile off.

And all it is, is two sticks and this and

that and these go in bag.

[SOUND] And

then he's flushing birds out, basically.

[NOISE]

[MUSIC]

It seems like a slightly sort of easy way of

hunting and [INAUDIBLE] picture the hunter goes

out and there's a skill to it [INAUDIBLE].

Throw a few rocks in the bush and

just call it his life, basically.

[MUSIC]

[SOUND] And orchard needs water, land fertilizer,

spraying fertilizers and

I do the upkeep to maintain the greenery.

Ambelopoulia is a hobby of mine.

I sell a few of them and I eat the rest.

Because of unemployment,

many people make a living through Ambelopoulua.

>> Are you afraid of the police?

I'm not afraid of anyone.

If you're unemployed,

you're not afraid to anyone.

We can't pay for anything anymore.

>> [MUSIC]

Having met enough locals to appreciate that

trapping birds is a large part of Cypriot culture,

the only thing left to do was to

try ambelopoulia for myself.

It's not like it's listed on menus, but

someone we've met was proud to lead us to

a favorite restaurant where the dish is

supposedly cooked to perfection.

>> You can make very good soup.

>> So, that's the soup?

>> Salt and lemon.

>> All I can see is little sort of heads and

eyeballs.

>> Yeah, yeah.

[MUSIC]

>> So, is that putting salt on it?

>> Natural sea salt.

>> Sea salt.

[MUSIC]

Thank you very much.

>> You are welcome.

[CROSSTALK]

[MUSIC]

The best [INAUDIBLE] in Cyprus, finally.

[MUSIC]

[NOISE] You can have it

with pomegranate, as well.

[MUSIC]

Yoghurt.

So this is basically, the most traditional and

according to locals here,

the best citric mezze that money can buy.

[COUGH].

[MUSIC]

Altogether.

[MUSIC]

The most traditional dish in Cyprus,

that's all I can say.

Ambelopoulia is an acquired taste and

my obvious struggle to

swallow had offended our hosts.

It was hard to detach the crunch of tiny bones and

bitter flavor of guts from the image of

this fragile bird stuck upside down in a bush.

[NOISE] We're in the middle

of a village in Cyprus.

Now we're away from right in the heart of

the country.

Where tonight,

they're parading the bones of an old saint.

Tradition and culture is clearly at the heart of

Cypriot life here.

[FOREIGN] also says.

[SOUND].

>> Cyprus has had a wretched history and

has spent the last 50 years trying to

gain independence and preserve it's identity.

For those who feel that the latest threat has

come from the EU membership, trapping and

eating songbirds has become an emblem of

nationalism and a food of defiance.

But the stakes have been raised for

anyone trying to save gut this national dish.

Their efforts have been met by

increased enforcement of greater organization.

Although, some hope condemnation will

spread across Europe and pose a threat to

the tourism industry in Cyprus.

Locals who are passionate about preserving their

heritage are just as prepared to dig in for

the long fight.

[MUSIC]

[NOISE]

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