Day 7 of the anti-poaching camp in Cyprus. For those who have followed the story so far it should have become clear that a great deal of the trapping, where the situation is most dangerous and out of control, is taking place in the ESBA (Eastern Sovereign Base Areas) of Cyprus. There are two sections of the ESBA: Ayos Nikolaos and Cape Pyla, connected by a thin corridor and both very heavily patrolled by poachers who are guarding the trapping sites from us and whoever else might get in the way of their profits.
So far our incursions to these areas have only been limited to the night time, when we can move about and hide more easily from the armed patrols. After 5am, as the sky begins to glow, it is generally too dangerous for us to be on the ground and we need to move out. That’s also when the poachers “go to work”, and they literally form convoys of cars driving from the Republic of Cyprus into the ESBAs to collect the birds. In less than one hour each poacher reaches their trapping site, made up of bushes, olive groves and acacia trees, now filled with birds that have been attracted by the decoys playing deceitful bird songs all night. The poachers would then quickly set up their nets, throw stones at the bushes and trees to flush the birds which normally panic and fly straight into the nets. Then with a knife they quickly kill them and collect them in buckets. On a “good day”, a poacher once revealed, up to 700 birds can be collected. Half an hour later the net is taken down and the decoys are switched off for the day. It’s a fast, deadly routine that is repeated every day, over the whole migration period.
Yesterday, with Chris Packham’s crew, we tried to witness and film this as it happened, for the first time. Since being on the ground is too dangerous we decided to rent a boat and approach Cape Pyla from the sea. It was 5.45am when we stopped the boat engine at the eastern side of the Cape. Still completely dark, you could hear loud and clear the hundreds of decoys playing the blackcap song, a haunting and disturbing choir. At 6am we started to see the lights of the torches, first one, then three, six, then many more appearing over the hill, as the trappers moved in and took position, each by their own trapping site. As the first light broke, the decoys were switched off and poachers began throwing rocks at the bushes. For 10 minutes we watched with our mouths open as hundreds of scared birds flew around the Cape and into the nets. Then the killing took place, of not just blackcaps but also owls, shrikes and anything else unfortunate enough to have feathers. Luke, Chris Packham’s cameraman, filmed everything while Andrea from CABS was glued to his binoculars in the most distressful silence. Half an hour later business was over and everything was silent again.
Below you can see an image of what Cape Pyla looks like from the sea, minutes after the slaughter was over. It looks pretty and peaceful doesn't it?