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It’s Time to Get Tough with Illegal Maltese Bird Hunters

…worst season in recent time…

The illegal shooting of birds of prey and other protected species in the Maltese islands has peaked this autumn, prompting renewed calls from BirdLife Malta and the RSPB for tougher action to be taken by the Maltese authorities against the illegal hunters.

Over the past two weeks, birdwatchers from all over Europe have visited the island to assess the population of migrating birds and to witness and record the slaughter for themselves. The two-week programme, known as the ‘Raptor Camp’, was organised by BirdLife Malta – the RSPB’s partner in the Maltese islands.Dr Andre Raine, BirdLife Malta’s conservation manager, said: “Many observers have commented this is the worst season in recent years.”

The RSPB’s Grahame Madge, who attended the Raptor Camp, said: “To anyone who hasn’t seen it for themselves, the scale of the slaughter beggars belief. A rogue element of the island’s 12,000 hunters will blast at anything that flies, and casualties from the two weeks included a black stork, herons, bee-eaters and many birds of prey. Lying on a major migration route across the Mediterranean, birds pass over the islands in extremely large numbers. On good days for migration, when several hundred birds of prey pass through, the hunters are stirred into a frenzy – desperate to shoot as many as possible, even within protected areas.

On one day, I witnessed a large movement of honey buzzards and other birds of prey. The hunters could clearly be seen identifying the best vantage points in a bid to shoot them. Sadly, I also watched the death throes of a mortally wounded honey buzzard that had to be put down by a vet. Visiting Malta this month has been the only occasion in my three decades of watching birds when I’ve not wanted to see great views of birds of prey; when I saw a marsh harrier or a honey buzzard flying low, I was just praying that it climbed higher to soar beyond the reach of the hunters’ guns.”
Seventeen birds of prey with verified gunshot injuries have been received by BirdLife Malta during the Raptor Camp. On two separate days, four were received each day.

Dr Andre Raine, added: “If BirdLife Malta can receive 17 birds of prey with confirmed gunshot injuries in eight days, then the actual number of protected birds that are being shot throughout the country must be very high. The chances of a shot bird being brought to the BirdLife Malta offices are low since the birds we receive have to escape the hunter who shot them and then be found by someone willing to hand them over to us. Therefore, this really is only the tip of the iceberg.”

Two of the birds, a marsh harrier and a honey buzzard, were found by Raptor Camp participants within a protected area known as Buskett Forest, highlighting a worrying trend that hunters are now returning to areas where they had been successfully removed in the past.

“It seems that hunters feel they can simply do as they please,” continued Dr Raine. “The government must crack down on illegal hunters, otherwise the slaughter will continue over the coming weeks.”

BirdLife Malta states that the scale of illegal hunting suggests that the culprits are more than the ‘he very few untouchables’ as suggested by FKNK, a body representing hunters on the islands.Bird of prey migration will continue over Malta until mid-October. It can be expected that there will be several more days in the coming weeks when large numbers of these birds will gather over the islands.

Geoffrey Saliba, BirdLife Malta’s campaign co-ordinator, said: “If our government does not stop seeing the hunting issue as an argument between two sides, the slaughter will continue. Illegal hunting across Malta is a national and international problem and a criminal act that defies national and international law and it must be stopped now. The only way to put a stop to the killing is to make sure that those who are found guilty of these crimes are punished to the fullest extent of the law. The fines for those caught hunting illegally must be increased and the hunting licenses of repeat offenders must be cancelled. If the government is serious about curbing illegal hunting, the police should be given the resources needed to counter the unacceptable level of hunting.”

4th July 2014