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IAR welcomes stiff sentence for Maltese man who shot protected bird on second day of the hunting season.

IAR has welcomed news that licensed hunter Stefan Micallef, a 44 year old from Naxxar, has been fined €2,500 after admitting to shooting a protected bird species on the second day of the spring hunting season in Malta. He has also had his licence suspended for three and a half years and had his gun and ammunition confiscated.

The incident was filmed by Birdlife Malta members and the footage was later handed over to the police. Members of Birdlife were monitoring the area when they heard a gun shot. This was followed by a second shot and they then saw a bird falling from the sky. Following this they also observed the hunter hiding the protected bird. The police were called to the site and the hunter was arrested. Copy of the video was passed to the police as evidence and also for identification of the hunter.

Police Inspector Jurgen Vella from the ALE section brought the hunter before the court some hours later.

Mr Micallef also pleaded guilty to seizing the shot bird and attempting to keep it.

Magistrate Aaron Bugeja heard how the hunter told police that he had mistaken the bird – a Cuckoo - for a Turtle Dove. He was shown a picture of the two species, with defence lawyers Kris Busietta and Paul Gauci Maistre pointing out that the two looked similar, apart from the tail.

At the start of the sitting, the charges were amended because the Cuckoo was incorrectly listed as being on Schedule 1. Had it been, the minimum fine would have been €5,000.

Inspector Jurgen Vella from the Administrative Law Enforcement section told the court that the accused had admitted to shooting the bird and had cooperated fully. Lawyer Kris Busietta also asked the court to consider the man’s clean police record, the fact that he had promptly admitted what he had done and claimed that he had mistaken the bird for a huntable species.

In handing down his sentence, after an hour of studying the case, the Magistrate said he had considered all these factors but noted that the incident - the first one during the current spring hunting season - had taken place just two days after a hotly contested referendum and said the courts wanted to send out a strong message against illegal hunting.

The incident only came to light because of the Birdlife volunteers who filmed it and the police officers who acted on that information. Addressing the accused the Magistrate stated: “It is useless for you to say that you made a mistake after you pulled the trigger. You should have thought things through before you opened fire. And you should not have tried to hide the dead bird after you realised you had made a mistake.”

He fined him the maximum amount permissible by law - €2,500. The Magistrate also ordered the confiscation of Mr Micallef’s shotgun and suspended his hunting licence for three and a half years.

Max Farrugia, Chairman of IAR Malta, said: “The Prime Minister has promised to close the hunting season if protected species are being shot. If this is not an isolated incident and more evidence is gathered by our bird monitors of the shooting of protected birds, we will be watching and waiting for him to fulfil that promise.”