By Nathan Morley
NICOSIA, Sept. 25 (Xinhua) -- Volunteers looking for poachers that target migrating birds are currently on patrol in several Mediterranean countries, including Malta, Lebanon, and Cyprus.
The Berlin-based Committee against Bird Slaughter, known as CABS, has launched their autumn anti-poaching operations, seeking those responsible that illegally persecute birds.
Their patrols take them through mostly rural areas, looking for nets, decoys and other hunting devices. The environmentalists say their work is tough and their members have been assaulted on dozens of occasions by angry poachers.
In Cyprus, CABS team-leader Andrea Rutigliano expressed serious concern at the extent of illegal killing of migratory birds and complained about a lack of help from the authorities, which he says are no longer as helpful as they once were.
"Now we don't have a performing police unit, which was instrumental in helping detect bird trapping. There is a lack of enforcement in Cyprus. We need support -- we will take the risk -- but it is not fair that we are left alone in the field after such great cooperation," Rutigliano told Xinhua.
A recent study by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) estimated that trappers in Cyprus killed 2.3 million migrating birds in autumn 2016, up from 1.4 million in 2010 -- making Cyprus the second-most deadly bird destination in the Mediterranean, after the island of Malta.
"Whilst we think the legal framework is right, I think it is the means by which it enforced that needs to be improved," says CABS member Andrew Rose, who is currently on patrol in Cyprus.
Some of this autumn's first migrating birds have already been trapped by hunters. Throughout September the team is in eastern Cyprus, where despite a national and international ban on poaching, trapping represents a severe threat to birds along their migration routes.
Once snared into traps, songbirds are sold to restaurants for the illegal but widely available delicacy "ambelopoulia" -- a trade worth some 16 million euros (18.8 million U.S. dollars) annually.
Because Cyprus is a key stopover on the migration route of many birds, including blackcaps and warblers, the trapping mainly takes place during the autumn.
Last year, police on a British military base in Cyprus launched a new weapon in their fight against poachers, who had been responsible for large scale trapping over decades. A top-of-the-range drone, with night-vision capabilities, is already enhancing the police's ability to cover areas which have proved difficult to reach in the past.
"We are extremely satisfied with the British bases, where there is law enforcement and high fines," Rutigliano says. "We saw a 180-degree change on the bases. Really, they mean business and they are keeping their word on that. We cooperate with them and its working perfectly well.
"Now they must keep up that press for the next 5 to 10 years."
After Cyprus gained independence in 1960, Britain retained sovereignty over two base areas covering some 254 square kilometers of the island's territory.
In many Mediterranean countries, poaching remains a lively topic of conversation, given that some locals -- especially the younger generations -- support hunting bans, whilst residents in many rural communities defend trapping as an age-old custom.
"It's very important to take a position against the poaching, because what happens here is about all of us," says Edwardo Quarda from CABS. "It concerns all the populations from Europe, and other countries, because a bird which moves from Cyprus comes also to Europe or Africa. So, it's all about us what's happening here."
CABS says that their work in Malta, Cyprus, Italy and France has seen their members collect over 50,000 nets and traps annually, as well as monitoring hundreds of hunters, and supporting the police in bringing poachers to justice.
Rutigliano concludes: "We will show the world that there is still trapping and or aim is to help tackle it."