World Wildlife Day: UNFICYP tackles illegal bird trapping in the buffer zone

3 Mar 2022

World Wildlife Day: UNFICYP tackles illegal bird trapping in the buffer zone

Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean and lies on one of the main bird migration routes across the area. In the United Nations buffer zone alone, there are around 200 bird species out of the over 400 known to exist on the island. Many of them endangered by bird traps set illegally by hunters.  

Mark Wall has served as a detective police officer in Ireland for almost 30 years. Since 2021, he has been deployed with UNPOL to Pyla, where he is responsible for coordinating the daily patrols of 9 patrol officers. For him, “effective patrolling means being aware of all potential illegal activity and coordinating a response.”

In addition to partnering with local authorities, like the Game and Fauna Services, to seize and destroy illegal hunting equipment inside the buffer zone, UNPOL works in close collaboration with UNFICYP's military and Civil Affairs components and also has the support from CABS, the Committee Against Bird Slaughtering, which is helping enforce the law for the protection of birds and works to detect and spot illegal hunting and trapping activities.

Andrea Rutigliano, who has been working with CABS since 1996, oversees the antipoaching operations in Cyprus, Italy, Spain, and France. On the island, they count with 4 staff and few volunteers who are mostly foreigners. For her, “We are glad to have the contact and support of UNFICYP. We believe that joint operations between UNFICYP, the Cyprus police and CABS would bring great results in the buffer zone.”

The buffer zone extends for approximately 180 kilometres across the island. In some parts of old Nicosia, it is only a few meters wide, while in other areas it can reach a few kilometres between both communities. The area has remained a haven for flora and fauna, thriving on the near absence of hunters and most other human interference.

CABS volunteer with a bird rescued from a trap. Photo: CABS

However, over the last months, UNPOL have spotted illegal trapping devices in remote areas. Once this happens, a detailed search of the location is carried out and depending on the circumstances, Game and Fauna Services or CABS staff are escorted to the scene and assist in seizing the equipment. 

UNFICYP pays careful attention to preservation of the natural environment, and to the prevention of unlawful activity in the buffer zone. However, despite Mission efforts and active patrols, Mark details that in some instances, “illegal bird traps were found placed near large trees or on small grove of trees such as olives in distant areas ways from patrol tracks.”

Andrea explains that “small migrating birds are a sought-after delicacy”. According to her, although CABS does not remove traps on their own, they inform authorities on the spot. With CABS support, in 2021, “we removed around 2,300 lime sticks, 140 nets and 130 electronic decoys used for both hunting and trapping,” she recalls. 

On 23 February, UNFICYP peacekeepers from UNPOL in sector 4, together with the Game and Fauna Services, held a symbolic ceremony in Kofinou village to destroy all illegal bird trapping equipment seized by the Mission’s military and police in the buffer zone over the last months.

UNFICYP keeps a permanent watch over the buffer zone with patrols in vehicles, on foot, on bicycles and by helicopter. For Mark, “patrolling the buffer zone makes you realise how fragile the ecosystem in Cyprus is. The buffer zone has many beautiful but endangered plants and animals. Anything we can do to help support their survival gives us great satisfaction.”

On many occasions, he witnessed birds being rescued from their traps and recollects the experience: “we have actively assisted in freeing protected wild birds. It’s a great feeling knowing you are making a positive contribution to the protection of wildlife in Cyprus.”

As we mark World Wildlife Day, UNFICYP reminds that such activities inside the buffer zone are strictly forbidden and the use of weapons, dogs or equipment in this context poses a security risk and all illegal equipment that endangers wildlife seized inside the area will be removed.