Calabria: Birds of prey, finches, warblers and dormice
Calabria - the "tip of Italy's boot" - is relatively sparsely populated, the rugged Aspromonte mountain region hardly developed, society strongly marked by the influence of the 'Ndrangheta', the Calabrian mafia. With the hunting of birds of prey, the trapping of birds of prey for the pet market, the trapping of garden warblers, dormice, the southernmost Italian mainland region has a whole range of species protection problems:
Honey Buzzards are killed as some kind of pretentious show of masculinity
Similar to the Mediterranean island of Malta, which lies barely 300 km south, the tradition of hunting birds of prey in Calabria continues to this day. The background is rooted in an ancient masculinity ritual, which supposedly gives the shooter strength and endurance. Today, however, it is more a pastime for those with rose tinted and nostalgic view of the past. The birds of prey targeted are mainly honey buzzards and marsh harriers, but potentially any other birds of prey is also persecuted.
This form of poaching is particularly concentrated around the Strait of Messina - the strait between Sicily and mainland Italy. The situation on the coast has largely calmed down in recent years due to decades of relentless work by the Italian nature conservation associations. Today the poachers have retreated to the mountain villages of Aspromonte, which are scattered all over the landscape and where they can hardly be seen. The raptor hunting takes place only on good migration days and only when enough birds fly over within shooting range. This unpredictability makes our bird protection camps in Calabria somewhat complicated strategically but a successful undertaking: Poaching has been declining noticeably for years!
Finch trapping and garden warbler hunting
As in Sicily, bird-trapping remains widespread in Calabria. Finches - mainly goldfinches, greenfinches, linnets and hawfinches - are caught with nets and sold illegally on the pet market. There are poachers and smuggler gangs who not only serve the local markets, but sell the wild birds as far as Naples, Sicily and Malta.
In late summer, garden warblers are also targeted in southern Italy. The birds, which feed mainly on fruits such as figs and grapes after the breeding season, are said to have a particularly sweet aroma and are sought-after delicacies.
Grilled edible dormouse
Dormice have been considered a popular food since the days of the Romans empire in antiquity. Meanwhile the rodent is endangered in large parts of its range and is also protected in Italy. Nevertheless, they are still hunted in Calabria - especially in the provinces of Cosenza, Crotone, Catanzaro, Vibo Valentia and Reggio Calabria. The animals, which weigh a maximum of 150 grams, are either shot or trapped. The poachers usually go hunting on clear moon nights and find the little shy dormouse through their conspicuous calls.
Snap-traps are are the main trapping method used, as they are also used in southern Italy and in Lombardy for bird trapping. A archaic stone construction is also still used, which is not dissimilar to the stone-crush traps for birds in southern France and the Apennines. The traditional trapping season begins on 24 August and ends in December. During this time the animals have their "winter fat" and are considered to be particularly tasty. They are fried or boiled and often prepared with a tomato sauce.
How many dormouses end up in the kitchen is unknown. In Guardavalle alone, a small town in the province of Catanzaro, the annual demand was estimated at 20,000 animals in 2002. The "catch quota" is very high: In 2013, 266 deep-frozen dormouses were seized from 4 convicted poachers!