British bases in Cyprus slash songbird poaching numbers

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Larnaca (Cyprus) (AFP)

The British military said Friday it has clamped down on poachers around its bases in Cyprus, leading to a big reduction in the number of migratory birds killed.

A study by Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), said Cypriot trappers killed 2.3 million migrating birds in autumn 2016, up from 1.4 million in 2010.

Size for size that makes Cyprus the second-most deadly bird destination in the Mediterranean, after Malta.

A considerable portion of the industrial killing takes place within British military-controlled areas, especially the eastern sovereign base of Dhekelia, outside the south coast resort of Larnaca.

British authorities said operations against bird trapping over the past year have led to a 70 percent reduction in the roughly 900,000 migratory birds killed in the territory previously.

"This latest move by the Bases police deals another telling blow to the bird-trapping community and it has highlighted again the commitment of the police to stamp out this illegal activity," said a statement.

The illicit market for song birds, served as delicacies in local restaurants, is a multi-million industry in Cyprus driven by organised gangs.

After Cyprus gained independence in 1960, Britain retained sovereignty over two base areas covering some 254 square kilometres (99 square miles) of the island's territory where it runs its own police and courts.

The British areas have deployed a high-tech drone and publicly destroyed hunting equipment captured from poachers in the drive to stamp out the practice.

Bases police employ a dedicated 12-man crime action team of experts working around-the-clock to combat bird trapping.