Book describes bird hunting in Cyprus and Malta

A Reporter at Large by Jonathan Franzen is about the annual decimation of migratory birds by hunters and poachers in southern Europe.

The writer accompanied members of the German bird-protection organisation the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) as they challenged songbird-trapping operations in Cyprus.

Blackcaps, one of Europe’s most common warblers, are the traditional national delicacy on Cyprus, where they’re known as ‘ambelopoulia’. They are the main target of Cypriot trappers, but the by-catch of other species is enormous: rare shrikes, other warblers, larger birds such as cuckoos and golden orioles, even small owls and hawks.

On the island, all forms of songbird trapping have been criminal offences since 1974 but by the mid-nineties, as many as 10 million songbirds a year were being killed in Cyprus.

To meet the demand from restaurants, traditional lime-stick trapping had been augmented by large-scale netting operations, and the Cypriot government, which was trying to clean up its act and win membership of the European Union, cracked down hard on the netters. By 2006, the annual take had fallen to around a million.

In the past few years, however, with Cyprus now a member of the EU, the number of active trapping sites is rising. In his book, Mr Franzen tells about an altercation between CABS members and local residents.

He later travelled to Malta, described as ‘the most savagely bird-hostile place in Europe’.

The Maltese illegally shoot bee-eaters, hoopoes, golden orioles, shearwaters, storks and herons. Maltese hunters, who argue that the country is too small to make a meaningful dent in European bird populations, fiercely resent what they see as foreign interference in their “tradition.”

Mr Franzen describes how he travelled with Tolga Telmuge, a former Greenpeace director who campaigns against illegal hunting in Malta, and interviews Joseph Perici Calascione of the national hunter’s organisation.

He considers whether Maltese hunting activities can be accurately described as a “culture” or “tradition”.

Lastly, Mr Franzen tells about bird poaching in Italy, where a restrictive hunting law was passed in 1992. It is impossible to know how many birds are shot in Italy, which is a crucial migratory flyway. Banded birds have been recovered there from every country in Europe, 38 countries in Africa, and six in Asia.

He interviewed Fulco Pratesi, a former big-game hunter who founded WWF Italy and who now considers hunting “a mania”, and Franco Orsi, a senator from Silvio Berlusconi’s party, who has proposed a law to liberalise the use of decoys and expand the times and places in which hunting is permitted.

And Mr Franzen also writes about the work of Anna Giordano, an activist who helped suppress the poaching of honey buzzards in the Strait of Messina.

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