Day 2 of the anti-poaching camp with CABS. Last night we infiltrated one of the hottest spots of bird trapping and I got a taste of what trapping in Cyprus really looks like. Every tree, every bush, every corner of the land has an active electronic decoy and nets carefully placed around them. When you see how meticulous these trappers are, you realise there is no chance whatsoever for a migrating animal to get out of this place alive. Yet, this is one of the main migratory routes from Europe to Africa.
What really shocked me, however, is the level or organisation around this business. This isn’t a bunch of poachers trying to make some extra cash on the side of their jobs. This is an area controlled by ruthless mafia families who have made millions out of this business. Each dish, made of about a dozen birds, is sold for 80-100 euros on the black market, and the value of the bird business as a whole is estimated to be around 10 million euros.
This is big money and wherever big money is involved things can get more than a little hostile. Some of the trappers, the ones that have turned this old tradition into their full time criminal activity, employ armed guards to patrol the trapping gardens all night long, and pick-up trucks to wait in the dark at every corner, guarding all the access roads and roundabouts.
Each operation dismantling nets feels like a dangerous game of hide and seek. Will we manage to turn off the decoy and remove the nets before we get found? At one point last night we were spotted in the middle of a field after removing some nets. The bright white torch of the guard was scanning the field quickly from left to right; we had to stay on the ground and crawl across a field into the bushes for nearly a hundred meters, while the lights from the trappers were frantically looking for us, less than 50 meters away. Once back in the car we were chased off and had to drive at ridiculous speed across the countryside with two cars behind us, threatening to hit us at any point. They were probably just intimidating us, yet, the danger felt very close. When dawn came we hid on the side of the main road that goes into the trapping sites and filmed a line of cars, literally, driving towards the hundreds of nets just over the hill to collect the birds.
I'm still trying to make sense of this whole situation and why this activity is unpunished or even, dare I say, tolerated by the authorities. Trapping is clearly a full time job for many of these people, and a very lucrative one as well, not a hobby and certainly not a dying tradition.