Ambelopoulia: the disaster behind the dish

Ambelopoulia is a traditional delicacy on the island of Cyprus. Songbirds (usually robin or blackcap) are caught using mainly lime sticks, but also mist nets or calling devices, and then birds are sold on to restaurants where they get served either grilled or cooked. This hunting measure is by its very nature highly unsustainable, since many other species get caught as well. Since Cyprus is a hotspot for migratory birds, many rare and internationally protected species get killed too. People in support of this practice argue, that it is a thousand-year-old tradition and a sustainable source of nutrition, while many environmental NGOs and the government of Cyprus try to implement a ban. It has actually been banned as early as 1974, but a mafia-like underground economy continues to trap roughly 2 million birds every year. One bird gets sold for 5 euros in a typical restaurant, which makes catching Ambelopoulia a viable business for many. Considering the current situation of economic downturn and high unemployment in Cyprus, the tradition of catching Ambelopoulia has become increasingly popular in some areas of the island.

Ambelopoulia_BirdLifeCyprus_LR

Ambelopoulia – a Cyprus delicacy with disastrous ecological consequences

However, the implementation of the ban and punitive measures are not being carried out at the moment, due to political unwillingness and corruption. Even though the majority of the Cypriote population is opposed to this trapping tradition, not much has been done so far to protect songbirds. The political instability in Cyprus (Greek part, Turkish occupied part, and British and UN-zone) further complicates finding a solution to this conservation issue. Certainly, educating older generations about the harmfulness of illegally trapping songbirds, would be a step in the right direction. Recently, a strategic action plan for combating illegal bird hunting in Cyprus was presented, and is in the process of being applied. The potential songbirds from all across Europe have for ecotourism shouldn’t be underestimated, hence conservationists increasingly argue for the development of an ecotourism industry. Raising public awareness and improving law enforcement will continue to play an important role in this conservation hot topic.

By Matthias Randles

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