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Latest report from IAR Malta: Illegal hunting and smuggling

Environmental police arrest hunters in Malta

Maltese police investigating illegal huntingAt the end of December Maltese police from the Administrative Law Enforcement Section (ALE) arrested two hunters at the Salina salt pans on the coast road leading to the north of the island which is a nature reserve and a protected area. The team was led by Inspector Miruzzi, a friend and ally of International Animal Rescue.

Sources close to the police said that they had received reports of two hunters with guns roaming the area at different times of the day. The police had been keeping a close eye on the hunters for some time in the hope of catching them red-handed. Their surveillance led to the arrest of a hunter in his early 20s after he was allegedly spotted shooting at ducks. Information provided by the public had been instrumental in catching the suspect, the sources added.

In a separate case a man in his 50s was held after allegedly being found with a loaded gun inside the reserve. The sources said both men, who are expected to be arraigned shortly, had already been convicted of hunting-related offences in the past.

During the police investigations a freshly-mounted lesser spotted eagle was found in a Gzira home. Sources said investigations started after the police received information about a man who had shot an eagle. This could be one of the lesser spotted eagles which passed over the island of Malta during September. One of the shot eagles was found injured at Birzebbugia, cared for by International Animal Rescue Malta and later sent over to Baden Burgh in Germany for further clinical care. Tragically, the eagle, which was named Sigmar, died recently after a severe infection. He had a broken wing and six lead pellets lodged in his body and limbs.

Max Farrugia of International Animal Rescue in Malta stated that, according to IAR’s German partners in Berlin, out of the 16 eagles which managed to hatch during 2007, this was the third one to have gone missing and then be discovered. Two eagles were shot in Malta and a third one was found injured in Sudan. The security police in Sudan took the bird into their possession and so far have failed to return it to Germany. This bird was carrying a tracking system.

Protected species to be smuggled to Malta

In another hunting-related case, the police are trying to identify a Maltese man who had been involved with four Italians arrested by the Guardia di Finanza in Porto Palo at the end of December.

The four men from Calabria in Italy were arrested after being found in possession of several cases of about 2,000 birds which they were about to transfer onto a fishing boat and bring to Malta.

Though the Guardia di Finanza did not say what species the birds were, given the quantity involved it is suspected that the birds were finches, which are kept as caged birds in Malta and used as decoys to trap other birds in the wild. Bird trapping is still legal in Malta until the end of 2008.

The Malta police were informed by the Guardia di Finanza that the men were well known to investigators in Sicily and it was not the first time they had been found with protected species which had been trapped illegally in the area of the Straits of Messina. The men were arrested after days of investigations. The value of the birds runs into several thousand euros. Investigations are still under way in an effort also to identify and detain other accomplices with the help and co-operation of the Malta Police.

The operation was led by Col Carmine Canonico of the Guardia di Finanza.

In July last year, the Malta Police had also arrested a number of people after finding them in possession of over 1,000 birds on a speedboat.