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More than 100 protected raptors meet their death in Malta

One of the injured Marsh Harriers found near MgarrHundreds of protected birds of prey have been shot down by Maltese hunters in spite of the presence of large numbers of police and numerous bird conservationists.

Members of the German-based Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), which is monitoring bird migration over Malta with the support of International Animal Rescue and a team of 24 activists from Europe and further afield, spoke of a huge massacre and said they would demand that the Maltese Government end this season’s hunting immediately.

With a strong oncoming wind over the Mediterranean, more than 1,000 harriers, honey buzzards and falcons reached the Maltese islands just days ago to rest before continuing their journey to Africa – with fatal consequences. Near the town of Rabat a CABS team observed hunters opening fire at a group of marsh harriers, at least two of which were hit and fell to the ground. Subsequently the team filmed the hunter picking up the birds and taking to his heels. Previously hunters near the Blue Grotto had literally torn a kestrel to pieces with six shots before the very eyes of the CABS observers. Later at 23:00 hrs, at a harrier roost south of Xemxija, team members witnessed a group of hunters firing a number of shots and subsequently searching the area with the use of headlamps and torches.  At Buskett Gardens, the most important roosting area on the main island, observers recorded the arrival of at least 500 honey buzzards, 200 marsh harriers, some 90 hobbys as well as dozens of other birds including osprey, kestrel and lesser kestrel. Thanks to the presence of numerous police officers and ornithologists the situation remained relatively quiet. “Sadly this proved to be the calm before the storm” commented CABS General Secretary Alexander Heyd. The 38 year old botanist and ornithologist was on duty early, together with five colleagues, on the edge of the FKNK game reserve near Mizieb, where some 120 marsh harriers had gone to roost the previous evening. “A real shooting match involving some 40 hunters began shortly after 5:30 hrs. As soon as a raptor took to the air it was shot at. We counted at least 150 shots and saw at least six birds fall to the ground. A further 15 birds were hit but continued their flight."

Honey Buzzard coming to roostAnother team of Bird Guards were deployed to the south of the Fiddien Reservoir where 20-30 marsh harriers landed at dusk. Despite the presence of the Guards the following morning, birds leaving the roost came under fire from all sides. "I was amazed at the audacity and brutality with which the flock was almost completely wiped out" reports Bird Guard Shai Agmon. For the 34 year old Israeli conservationist it is the first time on Malta. “This was a completely new and horrifying experience for me and I will be briefing the Israeli news media and my professional colleagues on the unbelievable situation in Malta”.

CABS further reports that two shot and injured honey buzzards were delivered to the International Animal Rescue rehabilitation centre. Sadly their chances of recovery are slight.

"These observations are only the tip of the iceberg. We estimate that more than a hundred protected birds, some of them extremely rare species, have been killed in the past two days" David Conlin, a CABS member from Wales (UK) summarises. Alexander Heyd comments further: "The continuing assertions by the hunting federation FKNK that the poachers are a handful of black sheep has, as far as I am concerned, been empty words all along. Our data lead us to a completely different conclusion, namely that the majority of hunters participate in illegal hunting." In view of today's events CABS will demand of the Maltese government that an immediate ban on all hunting be imposed until raptor migration is over. Thought must also be given to declaring the FKNK wooded game reserve at Mizieb, and other important roosting places, exclusion zones for hunters and subsequently designated bird protection areas. A submission to the Environment Ministry, as well as a report on illegal hunting for the Environment Directorate of the European Commission, is currently in preparation and will be sent shortly.