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Bird guard camp in Malta comes to an end

Bee-eater caught in illegal mist netThe 15 day bird guard camp organised in Malta every autumn by the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) has come to an end. Although migration during this period was not as spectacular as in previous years, mainly owing to the weather conditions, more than 200 cases of illegal hunting were still recorded by CABS in their report.

Prior to their departure from Malta, CABS released the first results of the bird protection camp. The organisation revealed that its team members had recorded 207 contraventions of Maltese hunting law and European bird protection guidelines. The illegalities included 29 direct shootings down or hits on protected bird species. In addition 27 protected birds were found dead or observed in flight with obvious shotgun injuries. Among the species recorded were a Lesser Spotted Eagle, Marsh Harriers, Honey Buzzards, Kestrels, Bee-eaters, Barn Swallows and Swifts and Finches. Other illegal actions included the use of automatic weapons and electronic bird lures, illegal trapping and flouting of the afternoon hunting curfew.

These statistics do not include the 12 protected birds found in a 5 metre ditch on the Dwejra Lines by CABS Bird Guards on 14 September that were handed over to the police. At this location, exactly four days earlier, a CABS team had observed two men shooting at Bee-eaters, Barn Swallows and other small birds. The men responsible for this massacre were identified by the police from video material provided by CABS. It shows two individuals who have come to the attention of the police previously in connection with illegal hunting. It is reported that both of them have admitted shooting the Bee-eaters at this place and time and criminal proceedings will now be taken against them.

Bird guard with shot SwiftAnother serious incident took place on 18 September in the fields between Fiddien and Mtahleb, where some 80 Marsh Harriers had come to roost shortly before dusk. The patrols from different bird groups on watch at the site witnessed several persons with torches entering the site around 9.00 pm and firing several shots at the blinded and defenceless birds. A stand-by CABS team was alerted by BirdLife and scanned the area with a thermo-camera. Five persons were located huddled in a darkened vehicle parked on a gated track immediately adjacent to the roosting harriers. The video material was handed over to the Rabat police who called in the owner of the vehicle for assistance in their enquiries. According to CABS, the man at first denied being present at the scene of the crime. When he was shown the conservationists' video material however he admitted having been in the vicinity of the birds. What further action is being taken in this matter by the authorities is not yet known.

A spokesman for International Animal Rescue Malta who work hand in had with CABS said that the police were very co-operative with the bird guards and responded on every occasion when they were asked to assist. Still enforcement leaves much to be desired. When compared with the number of hot spots known to the police, the enforcement unit is still very small. It is high time that more police are involved in enforcement during migration. The district police should be helping and certain rural areas could be patrolled to help the enforcement unit and, if possible, the Army could come in to help too.

IAR Malta stated that since 1 September they had had 11 reports of illegal hunting at sea by means of speed boats and rubber dinghies. Hunting at sea dwindled considerably as a result of strict enforcement but during the last two years reports are on the increase once more.