Modern technology has become a vital part of enforcement and competent authorities in different countries have started to use it to fight wildlife crime. Such technology could include the use of drones, forensic testing and covert surveillance, just to name a few. The benefits of using such technology are many, including the gathering of evidence against wildlife criminals to use in courts, footage for media use, but also more efficient use of enforcement personnel time.
With regards to covert surveillance, the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) has been using this technology in the UK for many years, by placing hidden cameras on sites that are known or suspected of wildlife crime e.g. for raptor persecution. Any evidence gathered, after being reviewed, is provided to the enforcement agencies for further action against any individuals that may be caught red-handed undertaking a wildlife crime. Depending on the quality and the content of the footage, it could also be submitted to the court as evidence as part of the prosecution, with the hope that a heavy, deterrent court sentence is handed out. Upon the completion of a court case, any gathered footage can also be used for media work in order to highlight visually the illegal bird killing problem.
With this in mind, the RSPB and BirdLife Cyprus decided to use covert surveillance in Cyprus to gather evidence on illegal bird trapping last autumn 2016, with funding from the Oak Foundation. RSPB Investigations experts came to Cyprus and worked in close collaboration with the SBA Police, installing cameras at several bird trapping sites in the Dhekelia SBA. This was the first time surveillance was used in Cyprus with the aim to catch illegal bird trappers on the act and the results exceeded our initial expectations, with 19 bird trappers being prosecuted. The footage obtained showed trappers setting up and removing birds from mist nets, killing them with knives and tossing them into bags. All the footage gathered was used as evidence in the Dhekelia SBA Court, which resulted in fines of up to 2,500 euros or 6 months imprisonment suspended for 3 years. These fines have been among the highest handed down by the Dhekelia SBA local court for illegal trapping, an excellent outcome indeed.
Enforcement against illegal bird trapping can only achieve so much without the imposition of deterrent sentences from the courts. And this complete piece of work has shown how modern technology can support and improve enforcement against illegal bird trapping in Cyprus, but also to provide the courts with substantial evidence to hand out deterrent sentences.
Read more about the work of the RSPB Investigations Team in Cyprus here.