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 Loosli.
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,” she shrugged.
“I am just following my heart.”