More than a million birds trapped in Cyprus – why not use them to stuff your GDP?

Every year, usually twice a year, numerous species of birds migrate to and from the island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean. They are migrants. They don’t have passports to travel from Africa or mainland Europe and they don’t respect borders drawn on a map like people do. But this does not mean that they don’t get caught up in human politics.

Historically, the influx of these birds into Mediterranean islands presented a protein windfall for inhabitants on what was a frugal landscape. With the advent of guns and British colonialism an additional form of “hunting” emerged in Cyprus: that of shooting birds for fun. Trapping was perceived to be “primitive”. It openly relied upon a sharing of labour between “nature” and the trapper. To be civilised on the other hand meant to work hard and to master nature. This relied on expending much more human and machine labour. Machine labour that has come to rely on fossil fuels, and human labour that is unequally distributed.


The BEFORE Picture: Black Cap SongBird

But that was a different time right? Today the Republic of Cyprus is part of the European Union. Britain no longer has a colonial Empire. Trapping is illegal. Chicken farms abound across the Cypriot landscape. They fill the shops and provide people with all the bird breast they can afford.

Yet trapping just won’t go away though, and has been dramatically increasing. Bird NGOs estimated in 2013 that more than a million songbirds had being illegally trapped in the country’s southern region — a region made up of the Republic of Cyprus (majority Greek Cypriots) and the British Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs). Just under a million of these birds are believed to be trapped in the SBAs to feed a €10m black-market in ambelopoulia, a local dish made from these birds. There is talk of mafias exploiting this lucrative illegal black-market while people visit restaurants to discreetly waffle down the local delicacy.

The After Picture: Ambelopoulia

The AFTER Picture: Ambelopoulia​

While this story has been unfolding, the Republic of Cyprus has been facing some other “market” problems. In 2011-12 GDP shrank and Cyprus went into financial crisis. One of, if not the harshest austerity programme in Europe was imposed on the Cypriot public by the troika of the ECB, the IMF and the EU. This was in return for the troika bailing out the Cypriot financial sector by recapitalising its banks. While the formal economy has been shrinking, the informal “black-market” trade in ambelopoulia has been thriving.

While all this has been going on in Cyprus, the British government decided it would remedy some of its own shortfalls in the financial department by rearranging the way it measured its GDP. This involved including the estimated size of the prostitution and illegal drugs market, coming in at a whopping £10 billion a year. This hefty estimated “market” bumped up GDP figures and has helped keep the economy in the green.

I wonder can the government of the Republic of Cyprus boost their reporting on their GDP and get back in the EU’s good books by adding the value of the ambelopoulia black-market to their GDP figures? Its not quite £10 billion, but if they had done so in 2013 it would have taken off around 2% of the decrease in GDP for that year.

Or perhaps these birds being illegally trapped on the “British soil” of the SBAs, means the UK government could squeeze this £10m of dead songbirds into their GDP calculations instead?