Last Wednesday I woke up with a start to the sound of gunshots in the distance and immediately thought I was back home in England. Then I remembered I was still in Nicosia, the victims of gunfire here are of the feathered or fluffy variety and the day was Wednesday. “What is the significance of Wednesday?” I hear you ask. Well it has less to do with pay-as-you-go cinema ticket promotions and oh so much more to do with a licence to kill. The bird hunting season is upon us again.
Actually bird hunting seems to take place all year round in Cyprus and, according to what I’ve read and have been told, the rules about which species you can kill and when you can kill them are sometimes loosely applied. Perhaps this is because the rules are a tad confusing. For example “migratory corridors are designated as ‘no hunting’ areas during the bird migratory passage across Cyprus”. Which is when… and where exactly? Hunting is permitted “inland” for 3-4 days at the end of August, in certain “coastal” regions in September and anywhere on Wednesdays and Sundays during November, December, January and February. Confused? You should be and just to make it even more complicated you can hunt only woodpigeon and turtle dove in August and September, hare, chukar, partridge, black francolin, thrushes, wood pigeon and woodcock in November and December and in January and February you can kill thrushes, wood pigeon, woodcock, ducks and geese. So what about rabbits and hares then – or have they all skedaddled off?
I do wonder how many hunters stop and think “Hmm… is this a woodpigeon or a rare and beautiful Osprey aka Pandion haliaetus?” before blasting the critter to Kingdom Come… and how many local hunters have the knowledge, slight of hand, sharpness of vision and physical/mental capacity to make an instant identification of species before riddling said unfortunate specimen with pellets and sending feathers fluttering down in all directions? One website that I visited boasts “There is a lot of hunters on the island it is not a coinsitence that some of the best shooters in the world….. are Cypriots”.
Incidentally, please don’t assume that the above information is accurate as I’ve discovered several conflicting accounts of the rules, along with further information about daily and seasonal killing quotas and when you are allowed to use hunting dogs (during January and February “dogs is not allowed” was the guidance on the aforementioned site).
Killing wild animals and birds is a popular pursuit in Cyprus, where the general psyche is definitely hunter-gatherer but before you all scream obscenities and outcries of “barbarians”, be mindful that on the whole the Cypriots kill only what they can eat, unlike those engaged in blood sports the world over (fox hunting, bear baiting, cock fighting, dog fighting, bull fighting to name just a few). Yes, here in Cyprus it seems that everything is driven by the stomach and although I don’t personally condone hunting I sometimes find it hard to know where to draw the line between hypocrisy and being a carnivore. You could probably argue that hunting in Cyprus is not far removed from an organised pheasant shoot in the UK and at least they are (were) happy birds unlike those less fortunate victims of intensive rearing.
It’s worth mentioning that you can’t go around randomly shooting stuff. Nope! You must purchase an annual licence to kill (costs around 60 Euros I think) and then you can hunt to your heart’s desire provided you adhere to the regulations. There are around 45,000 officially licensed hunters in Cyprus; that’s just over 5% of the population with a lawful licence to kill but in spite of the licence requirement, around 750,000 birds are shot illegally every year (not to mention those killed by illegal bird-trapping, but that’s another story).
According to one of my neighbours the Cypriots take their hunting very seriously. He told me that it’s an expensive sport requiring protective clothing such as bright orange gear to increase visibility, goggles to protect eyes from pellets and special snake-proof boots (I got all excited when he told me this, until I realised he hadn’t said snakeskin). Different guns and ammo are required for shooting different species and for nocturnal hunting special equipment is used, such as infra-red glasses, reflective clothing and flares (…excited again - then I realised he was talking about the kind that light up the sky like fireworks). I’m not sure how much use all of this night time equipment is as I also read that hunting after dusk is not permitted!
Animal lovers will probably be gratified to learn that from time to time “nature takes her revenge” and claims numerous casualties, as was the case last month when one hunter was injured by pellets shot from someone else’s firearm, another fell into a ravine and fractured his leg and a third shot his own toe which then had to be amputated. I found another article from 2010 that said the season had commenced with one man dead from a heart attack, 23 injured (one having accidentally shot himself in his abdomen) and dozens of dogs poisoned – apparently because of territorial disputes between hunters.
Perhaps the rhyme should be run doggy run doggy run run run!