Bird guards in Malta record nearly 500 offences in three weeks
Bird guards from the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) left Malta on 4 October after three weeks of operations. From 11 September onwards up to seven teams were deployed daily. Their task was to record offences against hunting and bird protection regulations. Although the activists were only able to cover a maximum of 5 % of the area available for hunting at any one time, a total of 486 offences against bird protection and hunting regulations was recorded during the 22 days.
The total includes 23 directly observed - and in some cases filmed - incidents of birds of prey being shot (2 Ospreys 7 Marsh Harriers, 7 Honey Buzzards, 1 Hobby, 2 Kestrels, 2 unidentified falcons and 3 herons), as well as 31 cases of protected species being shot at but either not being injured, or at least not mortally. In addition there were 24 observations of Honey Buzzards, Marsh Harriers, Hobbys, Kestrels and a Peregrine Falcon with probable gunshot injuries, evident by missing or damaged plumage or broken and dangling legs. Many of these latter birds will have died, or will die later, as they are unfit to migrate, forage properly for food or to roost. CABS further reports the recovery of six birds with evident shotgun injuries, some of them severe, including two live Marsh Harriers and a Common Kestrel, and two dead Common Kestrels and a Golden Oriole, found at different locations on the island. The birds were handed over to the police or delivered to the International Animal Rescue (IAR) bird hospital in Hamrun.
Four cases of illegal trapping of protected wader species were also recorded, as well as the find of an illegal cage trap containing a dozen freshly caught Turtle Doves. A total of 119 illegal electronic 'bird callers' were located and recorded during night patrols. These are used by poachers to lure migrating birds to trapping sites or shooting posts. Between 15 and 30 September CABS observers registered a total of 278 shots after the start of the afternoon curfew on hunting imposed by the government. In autumn 2008, during approximately the same period, only 83 shots were recorded.
"These figures are, as always, only the tip of the iceberg. In summary it can be said that there has been no improvement in respect of illegal killing of birds on Malta. As soon as migration begins or resumes, protected species are shot at all over the island and the government looks the other way", states CABS president Heinz Schwarze. "The introduction of the limited hunting curfew after 3pm has indeed led to a decrease in illegal killing during the afternoon. "For many birds of prey this is however only a stay of execution for one night, as they come under fire at the latest when taking to the air the next morning" says Schwarze. This applies especially to rare birds such as Eagles and Black Storks, whose chances of leaving Malta alive are "extremely slim".
In the opinion of CABS staff, above all additional police personnel are urgently required, as well as the declaration of wide ranging hunting-free zones that include important night roost areas and safe flight corridors to the coast. In view of the discovery of more than 200 dead protected birds in the FKNK Mizieb hunting reserve, CABS has renewed its demand to Prime Minister Gonzi to designate the Mizieb woodland as a European bird protection reserve. "Mizieb is one of the most important bird of prey roosts on the Maltese islands and should have been designated as a Special Protected Area (SPA) in accordance with the European Union Bird Protection Guidelines a long time ago. Instead, this woodland has become a black hole for protected species", criticised Schwarze. Together with BirdLife Malta, CABS is currently putting together a comprehensive dossier on the so-called 'bird cemetery' at Mizieb. The report will be sent to the European Commission and the Environmental Committee of the European Parliament in the course of the next few weeks.