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Raptor Slaughter

Maltese majority ignored

While most visitors and tourists to Malta in September are still soaking up the hot Mediterranean sun, the bird watchers are busy scanning the sky for the raptors which by now are on their way to their African wintering grounds.

The first to be seen are the Eleonora’s Falcons, probably non breeders, followed by the first Marsh harriers, Honey Buzzards, Common and Lesser Kestrels, Hobbies, Ospreys and Short-Toed Eagles. Most of the raptors converge on Buskett; a small woodland in the centre of the island where up to 250 have roosted in a night.

Although the site is protected this does not stop the Maltese hunters from surrounding the area and shooting at any bird which dares cross their sights!Over the years enforcement has gone from bad to worse, the small Police unit assigned to protecting birds, (Administrative Law Enforcement unit) has been given more and more tasks, including beach patrols on bikes, boat patrols, and many other assorted duties. This has been very bad news for the birds. This year hunters have even shot from within Buskett after an absence of some years.

In the north another afforested area called Mizieb, under the control of the so-called Hunting and Conservationist Federation has also become a death trap for raptors. Here, little or no enforcement has made this site a black spot for birds of prey. Anything over the size of a quail is prey to these so called “sportsmen”. This includes every species of protected raptor to cross over the islands, including endangered Pallid Harriers, Lesser Kestrel and Ospreys. This year at least two Ospreys were found by the public with broken wings. Other slaughtered or injured raptors found included Marsh Harriers, Short-eared owls, Common Kestrels, Honey Buzzards. Moreover, many other non raptors such as Purple and Grey Herons, Night Heron, Bitterns, Little Egret and Yellow Legged Gulls are also shot at will. As all birds are normally collected by the hunters for trophies the actual number of shot birds is hard to calculate but certainly reaches into the hundreds. The birds found by the public are only the tip of the iceberg as many are either collected as trophies, die over the sea or carry lead pellets and die slowly from hunger or injury. The government in Malta will do nothing or very little to stop this annual massacre, instead appeasing these barbarians is the order of the day in order to win their votes. In a population where support for the two main parties is split almost 50/50 every single vote counts, getting 15,000 hunting voters “upset” would be suicidal to the politicians, and besides that birds don’t vote. Although the Maltese public is strongly opposed to hunting by a huge margin of up to 83 percent, they are mostly silent about the killing. Letters do appear daily in the newspapers but the cycle just goes on year after year. While I write this article a flock of 14 Short-toed eagles attempting to roost where all gunned down, this in spite of the fact that the Police did their best to monitor the birds. In a small island crawling with guns there is very little a large bird can do to hide, in every cranny and tree a hunter waits to kill protected birds.

Ray Vella for Fatbirder in Malta

4th July 2014