| PROTARAS, Cyprus
PROTARAS, Cyprus (Reuters Life!) - A diminutive retired
schoolteacher from Switzerland has become the worst nightmare
for legions of illicit bird trappers in Cyprus.
"I track down the poaching sites, then I report these
people to authorities. Possibly most of them have never spotted
me watching them because I hide in the bushes," says Edith
Its an unusual pastime for someone aged 74.
Since her first brush with bird trappers in 1994, Loosli
has traveled to Cyprus twice a year to cause as much disruption
as possible to what conservationists say is the indiscriminate
slaughter of thousands of birds in the island's southeast.
Trappers target blackcaps and robins, but anything can get
caught up in their nets, including raptors like owls.
"There are countries which put a lot of effort into
conservation of birds, and here they are slaughtering them,"
says Loosli, who plans her trips to Cyprus around the annual
migration in the spring and the autumn.
"Right now I'm covering about 50 sites where there is
active bird trapping. I go out almost every day at two a.m.
with some volunteers to find the trapping sites and alert the
games service," said Loosli.
She doesn't give much away about her methods.
"I know where to find them, and I don't want anyone to know
how I do it," she says firmly.
Lying on a key migratory route, conservation groups say
thousands of birds are trapped in the low-lying coastal
woodlands of Cyprus each year.
Most are captured either with very fine mist nets, or
sticks dipped in sticky lime. Birds are lured to catchment
areas by recordings of birdsong.
Their death is particularly brutal. Birds glued to
limesticks either die of exhaustion or are dismembered by
hunters tearing them off the stick, and those trapped in mist
nets are simply hacked out.
Considered a delicacy by many, they are known locally as
"ampelopoulia," and supporters would say it is a practice
recorded by historians since at least medieval times.
Restaurants may clandestinely serve them up fried or pickled,
and at 3-5 Cyprus pounds ($7.3-12) apiece, it's big business.
"I see these people in their big flashy four-by-four cars
and I know it's bird money. It makes me absolutely furious,"
Loosli told Reuters by telephone from her home in the small
southern Swiss town of Thun.
Petite and with a shock of blonde hair cut into a stylish
bob, Loosli's first brush with hunters was being chased through
a field after she removed trapping devices.
"I just took the box of limesticks and ran but then had to
leave them behind. They looked really shocked to see a
foreigner at five in the morning," she said.
These days there is no confrontation, but hiding in bushes
to monitor hunters laying their traps, and alerting the games
service to intervene. Loosli says it can sometimes be a very
long wait in vain.
"Sometimes they don't come," she says.
Loosli says that poaching has picked up after a lull
coinciding with Cyprus's European Union entry in 2004.
She pauses to contemplate when asked what her relationship
is with the community. "Well they don't like me because they
know what I do. They make fun of me ... I really don't care,"
"I am just following my heart."