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Cyprus Jobless Turn To Illegal Songbird Trapping

In headier times, trappers would earn around ⿬40 ($54) for just a dozen birds, while restaurants would charge customers double that. But demand has dropped amid the crisis, says Game Fund Service official Petros Anayiotos, resulting in an ambelopoulia glut which, in turn, has meant prices at restaurants are down by as much as half.

Even with the plunge in prices, however, the cash enticement to trap birds remains high for those who have lost jobs. Trapping also gives the unemployed a way to fill their hours.

And for many Cypriots, bird-trapping is about more than the money.

Michael says it's about tradition that stretches back centuries. A book entitled "Xoverga" ("Lime Sticks") â¿¿ a kind of unofficial bible for trappers â¿¿ refers to a 16th-century English traveler named John Locke, who recounted how he witnessed hundreds of bottles of pickled ambelopoulia being exported to Italy during a visit to the then-Venetian ruled island in 1553.

Michael says his association strictly supports lime stick trapping because it's been passed down from father to son for centuries, but frowns upon the more modern and more indiscriminate mist nets.

"Like my father, I would wake up and go out to set traps and I would think of nothing else," says Michael. "Ambelopoulia aren't going to disappear, there's so many of them, how many can poachers possibly catch anyway? Birds are there to be eaten."

Michael says politicians let trappers down during the country's EU membership talks by not asking to allow lime stick trapping as a traditional form of hunting. EU officials say there's no going back to allow for such an exemption.

But for authorities and conservationists alike, the rhapsodizing about tradition simply rings hollow. Both lime sticks and mist nets are non-selective trapping methods that can ensnare threatened birds such as the cuckoo, golden oriole and nightingale.

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