Landmark prison sentence for swan killers in Malta
In a landmark decision for wildlife in Malta, two hunters have received prison sentences for shooting at and killing three swans - a species protected by law. This is the first time custodial sentences have been given for illegal shooting in Malta. A third man was fined, the speed boat the hunters used was confiscated and all three men were banned from holding a hunting licence for five years.
UK-based charity International Animal Rescue (IAR), which has an office in Malta, has described the sentences as "of huge significance." The police were using a boat donated by IAR when the arrest was made.
IAR Chief Executive Alan Knight says: "We have been supporting the work of the Maltese authorities and the police to combat illegal hunting for more than ten years. Now, at long last, we are seeing real progress, both in terms of enforcement and in the way illegal hunters are being dealt with in the courts. The severity of these sentences sends a strong message to Maltese hunters that the shooting of protected species is a serious crime that brings a heavy penalty."
Illegal shooting has been a problem in Malta for many years. When IAR first set up its Maltese office in 1990, birds were being shot in public gardens and nature reserves. In more recent years, the government has tried to clamp down on the illegal shooting of migratory birds that fly over the island every year. The Administrative Law Enforcement department (ALE) was set up with a team of more than 30 officers dedicated entirely to enforcing laws that protect wildlife and the environment. In the past IAR has donated a high speed RIB (rigid inflatable boat) and two high-powered boat engines to the ALE to help them to catch illegal hunters operating at sea. Now the charity is providing a high speed patrol boat to improve their chances of catching the hunters.
Says Alan Knight: "Only last week I went out on a sea patrol with the Maltese police. I saw at first-hand their determination to catch hunters who are flouting the law. There are strict regulations governing what species can be shot and, where these are being broken, the shooters will be arrested and prosecuted.
"The police desperately need a faster vessel to aid them in the fantastic work they are doing to protect Malta’s wildlife. The new boat is currently under construction and will prove a vital tool for catching illegal shooters at sea."