The salt lake of Larnaca, in southern Cyprus, is a protected natural area. In winter, it is home to up to 15,000 flamingos. But since the beginning of the year, 96 birds have been found dead in this network of wetlands. What sound the alarm for conservationists. Initial analyzes lean towards the thesis of lead poisoning.The director of the NGO BirdLife in Cyprus points the finger at hunters.
“There are high lead levels in parts of the lake, and the source appears to be shotgun pellets. Hunting is not allowed on the lake, but it is in a nearby area“says Martin Hellicar of the NGO BirdLife Cyprus.
Tiny granules of lead are found at the bottom of the lake and are said to be ingested by flamingos. The latter indeed swallow small pebbles to facilitate digestion but cannot distinguish between lead granules.
“These pellets were found during the autopsy of dead flamingos in the laboratory“, indicates this person in charge of the local veterinary services, Panayiotis Constantinou.
Cypriot environmentalists are therefore urging authorities to extend the hunting ban to the entire coastal network of salt lakes. A proposal denounced by hunters.
“According to European Union rules for wetlands, hunting is only permitted in a narrow strip of land of 200 meters. Only 5 or 6 hunters come every day to shoot ducks. And in this area no flamingos were found dead“, defends Alexandros Loizides of the Cyprus Hunting Federation
For their part, the authorities recall that European legislation, in force in Cyprus, prohibits the use of lead cartridges near wetlands. Only ammunition made of steel, non-toxic to birds, is authorized.
The challenge is therefore to enforce a law that already exists. The other solution is based on cleaning operations in order to dislodge the lead granules encrusted for years in the bed of the lake. A study funded by the European Union is underway to identify the most problematic places.
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