BirdLife Cyprus was informed from press articles in early April 2016 of the adoption of a decree issued by the Minister of the Interior for the management and control of the fox population. The decree was issued after the Scientific Committee provided its opinion to the Minister, asking for the implementation of management and control measures for the fox.
The 3-page opinion of the Scientific Committee outlines the management measures that will be put in place (traps and the use of shooting guns with the escort of a game warden only) for a year, and then the measures will be re-evaluated by the Committee. However, the measures that have been proposed for the control of the fox population have not been based on any scientific report, which has investigated what the fox population levels are in the last few years and what if any, impacts these levels may be having on the game species, biodiversity, the fauna and the ‘affected’ stakeholders such as farmers and shepherds. Specifically, the opinion mentions that ‘The population levels of the species and particularly the exact number of the foxes are not possible to be calculated due to the species biology (nocturnal, cryptic). However, from the yearly nocturnal field data of the Game and Fauna Service….but also from complaints that the Service will receive from citizens, useful information will be put together in relation to the variation of the population status…’. BirdLife Cyprus disagrees with this statement since it is clearly possible to have estimates for nocturnal species, like other countries have done for foxes and for similar species through research programmes and targeted field monitoring, using mark and recapture techniques and camera traps.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that no study has been done in Cyprus to assess the benefits of this species, such as its possible role in controlling rat populations. Studies of diet in other countries have shown that the fox diet consists to a large extent of rats, which is a problematic species in Cyprus. Hence, reducing the fox population will most probably have chain effects on other species as well.
Apart from the lack of scientific evidence regarding the fox population increase and the need of population control measures, the scope of this derogation is too general and broad. More specifically there is no fixed timeframe for the application of this derogation i.e. it is applicable throughout the year, and the licenses for the measures (traps and the use of shooting guns with the escort of a game warden only) will be granted to a) hunting clubs or other organized groups, b) farmers and shepherds, and c) any legal person. Finally, it ignores the fact that reducing the fox population across the whole island is unrealistic and will never be accomplished.
BirdLife Cyprus recognises that fox control might be necessary in some specific and targeted cases for biodiversity protection, e.g. when foxes destroy sea turtle nests or predate intensively on bird nesting colonies in protected areas. This control however should be carried out by the authorities responsible for wildlife management, such as the Game and Fauna Service, instead of issuing a derogation that practically gives the opportunity to anyone to have a licence to take ‘action in their own hands’ against the foxes.
As for the fox population in general, BirdLife Cyprus stresses that the fact that foxes eat some game species, such as hares or chukar, doesn’t automatically mean that they are having an impact on their populations as this is part of the natural ecosystem function. Furthermore, BirdLife Cyprus believes that prevention measures are necessary for farmers (e.g. enclosures for farmed animals and chickens), and as for game management, the best management relates to healthy habitats and ecosystems and control of poaching, and not natural predator control.