Still no safe haven for migrant birds in Malta
During the first two days after arriving in Malta, bird guards from the bird protection camp have personally witnessed the shooting down of four birds of prey, located an illegal net site and provided the police with evidence on which to base the arrests of five poachers.
In spite of the government ban on spring hunting on the island, activists from the German-based Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) and International Animal Rescue Malta have recorded more than 220 shots covering almost every area of the island. Said Max Farrugia, chairman of International Animal Rescue Malta: "In view of the fact that our four teams can only monitor a small area of the island at any one time, the breaches of the law are clearly still widespread."
On Monday morning, on the high ground above the town of Salinas, a CABS team observed at least three people shooting at harriers and falcons that had roosted there the previous night. At least one hobby was hit and fell to the ground. Within half an hour of being alerted, despite morning rush hour traffic, two police patrols from the ALE (Administrative Law Enforcement department) arrived at the scene. At least one man is helping police with their enquiries.
At the same time, a second CABS team deployed to the north of Marsaskala witnessed the shooting down of a kestrel. The poacher was subsequently filmed picking up the dead bird, sticking it under his pullover, and taking it back to his hut. Again the police were on the scene quickly, identified the shooter and retrieved the dead bird. During this operation an active trapping site was discovered nearby and two nets were confiscated.At about 6.50 pm, as a flock of some 30 marsh harriers and honey buzzards flew into a night roost at Little Armier (L-Ahrax ta` Gewwa), fire was opened on the birds from several locations in the scrub and woodland. At least one honey buzzard was hit and fell to the ground. As the nearby CABS team searched for the bird, an armed youth almost walked into their arms but took to his heels at the sight of the bird guards. As the team ran after him, urging him to give himself up, the poacher fired a warning shot and disappeared between the trees. In this instance it was deemed prudent to break off the chase rather than risk being shot. Two local police patrols arrived about an hour later and seized four freshly-fired cartridges found at the scene. The officers also took a statement from the team leader including a detailed description of the culprit, and recorded an official complaint from the CABS team against persons unknown.
In spite of the ban on spring hunting, some poachers obviously have little fear of being caught. An example of this was a man who was observed hunting in the company of a small child of not more than two years of age, in an area west of the Freeport, and who was filmed by a CABS team with shotgun in hand. The police are investigating.
Yesterday morning a CABS team shadowed a flock of about a dozen honey buzzards that had roosted overnight west of Marsaskala. Shortly before the birds reached the open sea near Fort St. Leonardo, at least 20 shots were fired at the flock. Subsequently the CABS team observed through their spotting scope how a man with a shotgun combed the area and picked up an unidentified bird, probably one of the honey buzzards. He then disappeared with the bird into a shooting hide. Despite an extensive search by two ALE patrols, neither the bird nor the poacher could be found. Police investigations are continuing.
The extent of the poaching is a cause for great concern among bird protection groups: even if these illegal acts are committed by only a small minority of hunters, the damage to nature is nevertheless of worrying proportions. Wherever shooting took place, the CABS teams witnessed the activation of a warning system by look-outs equipped with mobile phones and walkie-talkies as soon as a bird guard or police presence was detected. This is very similar to methods used by organised criminal gangs. The four CABS teams will monitor bird migration over Malta and Gozo until Sunday 3 May and, in cooperation with the Malta Police Force, bring wildlife criminals to justice wherever possible.