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Conservationists fuming at low fines for bird trappers in Malta

Confiscated sandpiperBird conservationists reacted angrily today when a Malta court sentenced a man to a fine of 600 Euros after he was found guilty of animal cruelty and being illegally in possession of 75 strictly protected wader birds. The Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) which works in partnership with International Animal Rescue in Malta to combat illegal hunting and trapping, described the judgement as a scandal and demanded more severe penalties for the illegal trapping, possession or killing of protected species on Malta. "Such a low punishment is simply laughable and indirectly encourages others to continue doing the same", commented an irate Heinz Schwarze, president of CABS. It was Bird Guards from CABS who provided the decisive tip off to the police in September 2008.

The accused came to the attention of the authorities as a CABS Bird Guards' patrol suspected that there was a concealed bird collection in the man’s greenhouse near the former maritime radio station on 16 September 2008. The police were informed and searched the complex. They discovered a large aviary which contained 32 Little Stints (Tertuxa), 13 Wood Sandpipers (Swejda Cara), 8 Common Sandpipers (Pispisella), 5 Little Ringed Plovers (Monakella), 5 Green Sandpipers (Swejda), 2 White Wagtails (Zakak Adjad), two Yellow Wagtails (Isfar) and one each of Red-throated Pipit (Dizz Ahmar), Dunlin (Pispisella tad-Dabra), Temminck's Stint (Tertuxa Griza) and a Ring Ouzel (Malvzz tas-Sidra). Three other birds died before they could be rescued. "Many of the birds were completely maimed as their wings had been cut back to the bone. This method is often used by bird trappers who work with live bird decoys," said Schwarze. The case was heard before Magistrate Doreen Clarke. Police Chief Inspector Alexander Miruzzi prosecuted.

As CABS further reports, such lenient sentences are sadly no exception on Malta. A bird trapper, caught red-handed illegally trapping Ortolan Buntings and Red-throated Pipits by CABS Bird Guards in May 2008, was sentenced to a fine of 466 Euros a few months ago. "The consequences of such judgements are disastrous, and a slap in the face for the ALE police department who, despite their lack of resources, do a magnificent job" states Schwarze.

According to CABS, birds on Malta can only be meaningfully protected if convicted poachers receive appropriate punishments. Poachers obviously have little fear of prosecution on Malta. This is demonstrated by the case of a man who also has a trapping site near the former maritime radio station south of Bahrija. Although the police seized 49 protected waders there in August 2009 and began criminal proceedings against him, the same man was observed and filmed by a CABS team on 12 September 2009, again trapping protected species. The police came to the scene and this time seized 29 waders. A week later, on 19 September 2009, the man was once again in his trapping hut with nets and plastic decoys of protected species set out.  "The man clearly did not care whether the police caught him or not," Heinz Schwarze comments.