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Bird guards in Malta uncover illegal hunting and trapping activity

Although only 23 hunters in Malta have been issued with a licence for the spring hunting of Turtle Dove and Common Quail, the German group Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) working in partnership with International Animal Rescue reports that illegal quail lures can be heard throughout the night.

Illegal electronic bird caller used to lure quailIn the run-up to the planned opening of the limited spring hunting season on Saturday, CABS teams located and mapped more than 41 of these illegal devices on the island. In the course of their systematic search operation the bird guards checked about one third of the island during the weekend nights. CABS estimates therefore that on the whole of Malta more than 100 calling devices are currently in operation.

According to CABS, these bird callers are permanently installed devices with which hunters and trappers play the display calls of the Common Quail in order to attract live birds passing overhead. CABS Operations Officer Axel Hirschfeld states: "These devices play the same call over and over again and are easy for us to distinguish from their real counterparts."

It is well known that the Common Quail migrates mainly during the night. The devices are fitted with a timer programmed to be active between midnight and dawn.

Max Farrugia of International Animal Rescue explains that the operation of artificial decoys for hunting is banned under EU bird protection guidelines, as well as by Maltese law.

The bird protection teams notified the police when they heard the first illegal caller but regrettably they refused to seize the devices in the dark for fear of the danger that it presented to their officers – including the possibility that one of them might be shot. The Action Committee responsible for the bird guard teams requested the assistance of the wildlife police department – the ALE - in removing the illegal electronic lures during night operations.

The CABS spring migration team on Malta consists of six bird guards. Their tasks are to record cases of illegal trapping and shooting of protected bird species and to report offenders to the police. The operations are being conducted in close cooperation with Birdlife Malta, so that a bigger area can be covered.

The bird guards also observed a bird trapper illegally operating two clap nets. He had set out a dozen live decoys for trapping Ortolan Buntings. As the police, alerted by the CABS team, approached the site, the man gathered in the cages with the decoy buntings and hid them in a hut secured by a heavy steel door. This initially prevented the officers from seizing them. However, the officers were able to confiscate the birds later. Ortolan Buntings are seriously endangered throughout the EU and are considered to be a 'species of conservation concern'.

Whilst the hunting Federation stated that none of the hunters who applied for a licence went out hunting, sources close to the ALE said that said that during the weekend they had caught one hunter with a gun without the necessary a licence, and they also discovered a man illegally trapping in the North of Malta.

CABS bird guards heard 20 gunshots during their observations with three of them triple shots. The hunters were not seen, indicating that they were from people who did not possess the special licence, since they did not want to be seen.

During this limited open season the ALE has doubled its officers to 50 to monitor the island and police sources said that the situation so far is "calm".

Threats were made towards CABS organisersHowever, on the eve of the arrival of the CABS volunteers in Malta unknown people painted in red slogans against the Germans who organise the bird protection camps. Apart from foul language and a swastika the members were called 'German bitches' and there was also a threat saying "you r going to pay for this" - a reference to the restricted hunting season. The slogans were removed in less than 24 hours.

The European Commission has asked the Malta Government for a report about the enforcement and controls in place during the special hunting season and this is to be completed within four weeks of the season coming to an end.