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Foresta ranger was shot in the face by a hunter

Autumn bird camp on Malta – CABS final report

The Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), in close cooperation with its Maltese partner organisations International Animal Rescue (IAR) and Nature Trust, ran a bird protection camp on Malta from14 to 23 September 2007. The operation was the largest of its kind to ever be conducted on the Mediterranean island. Half of the costs, amounting to some 20,000 Euros, will be met by the Stadler-Naturschutzstiftung (Wehrheim). The remainder will be covered in full by donations collected principally in Germany. Day-to-day reports, as well as links to selected online press coverage can be found on the new English Website pages: http://www.komitee.de/en/Conduct of operations

The 22 volunteer participants from Italy, Germany and Great Britain were sent out in teams of two to allocated areas of operations at illegal hunting hot spots. The individual operational areas covered some 50 km². These were patrolled by the team, in a single vehicle, from 06:00 to 19:30 hours daily. In cases of serious incidents, teams were rapidly reinforced by a team or teams from neighbouring areas. Patrols were carried out every night by between two to four teams in order to locate and record the positions of illegal electronic bird lures. Whenever illegal activity was observed or heard, the CABS operations centre in Xemxija, manned by a native English speaker, was informed immediately. The information collated was evaluated here and passed rapidly to the environmental police unit A.L.E. operations centre. They then despatched a vehicle patrol to the incident. Every evening, a written report summarising all illegal actions recorded by CABS, with a request for follow-up and prosecution as necessary, were sent by fax to A.L.E. After two days the CABS operations staff operated on a mobile basis to increase our presence in the field.Our main objective was the prevention of illegal activity by the presence of our teams on the ground. Each of the team members wore throughout operations a distinctive green anorak with the words BIRD GUARD in bold yellow type on the back (see picture). The teams were instructed to take up prominent positions so that the hunters could not fail to see them. As soon as the teams were spotted some hunters began to pack up and go home. Others attempted to find locations out of sight of the CABS observers. Our teams remained mobile throughout and moved to positions where heavy shooting was taking place. As soon as birds of prey and other favourite targets of Maltese hunters - such as Bee-eaters - appeared in the skies, the CABS teams carefully observed their flight course and any activity on the ground. Our teams accompanied flocks of birds across the island on occasion in order to document illegal shooting or, by their presence, to deter it. Results

In spite of the demonstrative presence of our teams, we recorded 316 illegal actions and breaches of regulations during the 9 days of operations. These were all reported to the police in writing. Altogether 18 cases of illegal raptor persecution were observed and registered and 95 shots at birds of prey were counted. In 8 cases this led to definitive evidence of the death of the bird. In addition to these concrete cases, shots were repeatedly fired at birds leaving their nightly roosts in the Buskett/Laferla Cross/Dingli Cliffs area without any evidence that they had been hit. The species included Marsh Harriers, Honey Buzzards, Osprey and large falcons. This was because the low-flying flocks of birds passed rapidly out of the field of view of CABS teams and shots were heard almost immediately afterwards. It is therefore assumed that many more protected birds were shot out of sight but in the near vicinity of our teams. A large number of birds of prey with damage to plumage clearly caused by shotgun pellets were observed. In order to give more protection to the migrating birds, which arrived mostly in the late afternoon and evening, the Maltese government imposed a shooting curfew after 15:00 hrs for the period 15 to 30 September. On Sundays and public holidays the curfew came into effect at 13:00 hrs. Nevertheless CABS teams documented 24 cases of hunting after curfew involving a total of 65 shots. On two separate occasions hinters were observed in the field carrying weapons after curfew. All offences were reported by us to the police.A secondary objective was the investigation and documentation of hunting of Quail on a massive using electronic lures. The cassette recorders, powered by car batteries attached to automatic timers, begin to play at night between 01:00 and 02:00 hrs. This attracts the birds, which mostly migrate at night, into the killing grounds where they are put up in the morning by dogs and then shot. As a rule the lures play until dawn; but in some cases continue throughout the day. Our nightly patrols (and normal daily operations) covered some 40 % of the island and we located a total of 156 electronic lure devices. As some only play at specific times, and others are switched off during the day, the actual number of devices on the area covered in undoubtedly much higher – we estimate some 300 to 500 devices across the whole of the main island. Individual locations were precisely recorded using GPS instruments and most were recorded on a map. The results were handed over to A.L.E. on 23 September. During one night patrol a team observed a group of hunters who at 03:00 hrs, with the aid of searchlights, hunted sleeping raptors and rabbits.Public opinion, the police, the hunters and the press

According to a recent opinion poll, 70 % of the Maltese population is opposed to the hunting of migrant birds. This was reinforced in our personal experience by the number of Maltese who frequently went out of their way to speak to us on the street, in restaurants and in shops about our operations and to thank us for our commitment. Many indeed gave us tips on where to find illegal electronic lures and to tell us about cases of poaching. This was also true of tourists who spoke to us, complained about hunters, and also passé on information on illegal activity. The cooperation with both the environmental police unit A.L.E as well as the other mobile police units, at both command level and in the field, was excellent. The officers were almost always very quick to arrive at the scene of an incident. The A.L.E. is especially well equipped and schooled for work in the field and with illegal hunting activity. Nevertheless, during the course of our operations it became quite clear that the A.L.E. with only 24 officers (and other police tasks) in the face of 15,000 Hunters, trappers and poachers are desperately undermanned. An increase in financing, and above all in personnel, is urgently required.The Maltese daily print media reported almost daily on the progress of our camp and, with very few exceptions, in a very positive manner. The number of readers’ letters which were critical of hunting, and which appeared mainly in the Times of Malta, were particularly striking. During the first two days of the camp life with the hunters was comparatively peaceful – most of them ignored us and a few even offered us coffee and discussed hunting with us. The tone changed markedly after a press conference given by the President of the Maltese Hunting and Trapping Association FKNK Lino Farrugia, who called CABS members spies and called for the immediate expulsion of all critical foreigners from Malta. From the 18 September onwards we were subject daily to verbal abuse, man-handling and attempted bodily harm, pointing of weapons at CABS members at close quarters by irate Maltese hunters and, in one case (on 18 Sep), a direct discharge of a shotgun at a CABS team. Several police patrols were required on occasion in order to cool down the situation.A look forward to 2008

Our experiences at this year’s bird protection camp on Malta have shown that such operations must be repeated. At present it is planned to hold a two week camp on Malta in September 2008. Aftermath

After our departure some of the BirdLife Malta Raptor camp volunteers remained to hold the fort for a few days. It is essential that the camps – which are an effective deterrence to illegal shooting when teams stick to the heels of the hunters – cover a longer period of time. Some rare raptors such as the Short-toed Eagle do not migrate until early October. We will be coordinating much more closely with BirdLife Malta in the coming years. Raptors are still being shot according to reports from Malta. In another, serious incident, a BirdLife Foresta 200 warden – and a Proact member – was shot in the face by a hunter.

Dr Andre Raine of BirdLife reports:“For your information, we had a serious incident yesterday. Our Foresta ranger was shot in the face by a hunter from 25 metres, while on his own property. I spent the evening with him, taking him to the clinic and then the A&E - where a lead pellet was extracted from the bridge of his nose. He has made a full statement to the police, and we are very lucky indeed that his injuries were not more severe - if the pellet had gone a centimetre to the right, he would have lost his eye. Once again, this highlights the ridiculous situation in Malta whereby you can't even work on your own land without the very real risk that you may be shot. This is unacceptable."

4th July 2014