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Cyprus Jobless Turn To Illegal Songbird Trapping

It's difficult to say how many have again turned to trapping because they've lost their jobs. Even discreet queries are met by a wall of silence. Trust must be earned, especially in villages in the country's southeast, where ambelopoulia trapping is most prevalent.

But Andreas Antoniou, the head of the special police anti-poaching unit, said songbirds, hares and protected mouflon sheep have been at the center of a surge in illegal hunting island-wide that he blames on the economic crisis. He conservatively estimates a 10 percent spike in recent months, although the number of nabbed trappers has remained steady.

Authorities are alarmed.

"We're concerned that in light of the economic crisis, there are signs of increased poaching and illegal trapping of ambelopoulia," said Cyprus Game and Fauna Service Director Pantelis Hadjiyerou.

Martin Hellicar, a spokesman for conservationist group BirdLife Cyprus, says locals have confirmed that trappers who had given up the practice have been drawn back because of money problems, noting a "dramatic rise" in bird-trapping using both nets and "lime sticks" since last autumn.

The country's southeast straddles well-worn routes for birds migrating in spring and fall from Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Coincidentally, it also has one of the island's highest unemployment rates, running as high as 50 percent, according to local officials, with most of the job losses in the construction business.

"With the crisis, people are turning to poaching," says Liopetri Hunting Association President Costas Michael, surrounded by a half-dozen fellow hunters in the Association's cramped headquarters, replete with maps and life-size photos of hares and partridges hanging on the walls. "People who can't find a job know that there's money to be made just in their orchard."

Stavros Neophytou, president of the pro-trapping advocacy group Friends of the Lime Stick, puts it this way: "If you can't eat, what are you supposed to do?"

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