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Note: The contents in words and pictures of this article are based on the facts when it was first published (31.08.2006).

Linz, am 31.08.2006

Bird trapping season begins in Austria

Song Bird trapping season in the Salzkammergut region of Austria is due to begin in mid-September amid controversy over a national animal welfare law that makes the practice illegal.

The tradition dates back to medieval days, when an Austrian Archduke issued licences to the citizens of the Salzkammergut area which allowed them to trap song birds for food. About 150 years ago, this tradition was transformed into trapping song birds for fun, displaying them and keeping them over the winter for entertainment. Trappers associations were formed. Today, about 40 different associations of song bird trappers continue to exist. The local population strongly supports the trapping, seeing it as part of their regional culture and identity, and many are prepared to defend it vocally against national and international intervention.

The birds are caught by trappers positioning hundreds of traps in trees in the early morning. 10 caught birds are then positioned in tiny cages in order to lure other birds into the area. The traps are then left, often not being collected until the afternoon or even evening. Some trappers can catch as many as 10 birds a day. The season, which lasts from 15th September through the end of November, involves the trapping of approximately 30,000-35,000 European song birds, who are then sold to the lucrative pet trade each year.

In 2003, the EU issued a new Song Bird Directive, which, among other things, restricted, but did not ban, the trapping season for song birds. However, in 2005, a new Austrian Animal Welfare law was passed which unintentionally made the trapping of song birds illegal. When the Salzkammergut regional government became aware of this fact they lobbied the national government to write an exemption clause into the animal welfare law which would allow the trapping to continue. However, a hard hitting animal rights campaign prevented the clause from becoming law, which essentially ensured that bird trapping remained illegal though out Austria.

Nevertheless, during the 2005 season, the regional government blatantly ignored federal law and issued trapping licenses as usual. Approximately 630 new licences are issued each year.

In response to the defiance of the law by trappers and the regional government, animal rights activists have continued their campaign against the tradition. They mounted surveillance operations in the woods known to be used by the trappers, which caught 22 trappers acting illegally. All were subsequently reported to the authorities. Activists also removed trapping lines from the woods. Though legal proceedings against the 22 trappers are still pending, it was reported that the cases would be dropped for unspecified reasons. Therefore, on 24th August, 30 activists held demonstrations in front of each of the 3 regional councils responsible for the issuing of licences and demanded that the trappers be convicted and no new licenses be issued.

According to protesters, all 3 councils were prepared to talk to a delegation of activists. While the regional Councils have been dismissive when discussing the cases against trappers with activists, it is speculated that they have hesitated dropping the charges altogether because of the appointment of „Animal Solicitors" under the 2005 Animal Welfare Law. Solicitors would be expected to appeal and possibly win should the Councils decide to drop the cases. Austria now has 9 Animal Solicitors who have a legal standing in all animal related cases and who act on behalf of individual animals.

Animal rights activists in Austria have said that they are now preparing themselves for actions in the coming weeks in order to stop bird trapping once and for all and to make sure that the hard won ban on bird trapping is being implemented according to the law.