Latest report from the IAR team in Malta
Alan Knight, Carrie Colliss and Lis Key travelled to Malta to hand over the new high speed patrol boat to the police. They have sent in a second report:
The past few days in Malta have left us quite overwhelmed by all we’ve seen. The trip has really brought home to us the plight of wildlife and domestic animals on the island.
Flushed from the successful handover of the new boat to the ALE, we rose early the next day, excited and not a little nervous about our trip out in the new high speed boat - and what a boat! The police are clearly pleased with the new vessel and very keen to show it off. Accompanied by a second, slower boat, which is also powered by an engine donated by IAR, we were soon travelling at breathtaking speed, our eyes watering and our mouths gaping open in terrified exhilaration. BBC journalist Jon Hunt had the challenging task of filming the boat as it flew across the water’s surface at nearly 70mph. Surely no illegal shooters will be able to escape from the police now! After several hours at sea, we returned to shore - a little wobbly on our feet, but delighted with the experience. The ALE officers are a highly professional and dedicated team: it is a privilege for us to be working with them.
During the afternoon we met with Max Farrugia of IAR Malta and visited the proposed site for a new nature reserve and wildlife rehabilitation centre. This ambitious project is being planned by local conservation group Nature Trust (Malta), led by President Vincent Attard, on land that has been provided by the government. It will be equipped to treat sick and injured wildlife, including marine mammals and turtles, as well as creating and conserving forested areas and garrigue, and offering educational facilities for the public as well as accommodation for staff and volunteers. The sight of a shooter crossing the land, gun across one shoulder and dog at his heels, highlighted the importance of making this project a success.
At Max Farrugia’s house later that afternoon we saw recent casualties of the Maltese obsession with shooting. A beautiful golden oriole and a hobby had both been shot by hunters, but thankfully with small gun pellets which meant they were likely to recover and be returned to the wild. Other birds had also been brought in - quail and corn buntings in tiny cages, which had been used to attract and trap other wild birds. Their cages were smaller than the legal limit which had resulted in their confiscation - a happy outcome for them, but it’s hard to believe that it can ever be legal to keep a wild bird trapped in this way, without protection from sun, wind or rain, simply to catch others of its kind. Max is caring for other birds too, including blue rock thrushes, which are Malta’s national bird. These stunning birds had been taken from the wild as young and were found caged in someone’s home. Happily for these birds, it is illegal in Malta to keep them caged - if only this were true for all other species too. We also saw a majestic hen harrier - a magnificent bird that had been brought illegally from Egypt. Thanks to Max and the ALE, all these birds are likely to return to their rightful home in the wild.
Sunday morning saw an even earlier start, as we set off at 5.15am to join a land patrol with the ALE. In heavily hunted areas, the noise of gunfire was deafening. Numerous cars were parked along the nearby lanes, while in the woods hunters in camouflage gear remained hidden in specially constructed hides, or could be seen in look-out towers, their heads and guns silhouetted against the sky. The sight of the shooters positioned ready with their guns and the repeated sound of shooting conjured up a sense of a real war zone, with the shooters heroically defending their land. It was only when rapid gunfire was followed by the sickening sight of a lifeless bird falling from the sky that we remembered the hunters’ real motive for being there. Tension mounted as more shooters appeared. They tried physical intimidation and verbal threats to prevent the BBC from broadcasting the story, but to no avail. The public is entitled to know that Maltese hunters are slaughtering wildlife that should be preserved and protected by us all.
Thankfully there are many people in Malta who do care for animals and with whom we can continue to work to protect them. A final visit to a UK IAR supporter now resident in Malta lifted our spirits. There is still much to be done, but we are heartened by public support for our current work there and are already making plans for future activity. Watch this space!