Challenging Raptor Camp

October 8, 2013 3:07 pm

Christian was a volunteer during Birdlife Malta’s Spring Watch camp in 2009 and as a teenager was a member of Klabb Huttaf. He started working with Birdlife Malta, as conservation and policy officer, in September 2012.

by Christian Debono

A gravely injured Honey Buzzard
handed to BirdLife Malta at Madliena,
16th September. Photo: Rupert Masefield

Raptors in danger

My first camp with BirdLife Malta was as a volunteer in Spring Watch 2008 after having attended a screening of ‘Birds, Bins and Bullets’. The situation surely has improved out there since the Malta Ornithological Society was formed, at least this is what the founders of the organisation and veteran birdwatchers tell us, however I see very little abating of illegal hunting since I first went out in Bidni in 2009.
What we do see in the field is that the strategy of illegal hunters has changed, they are more careful not to shoot when our teams are around. Thanks to the scopes and the special scopes from Zeiss, Raptor camp teams are able to monitor raptors from kilometers away; and this is when they most of the incidents from. Unfortunately there is still a sizable group of hunters out there willing to risk it all to get their hands on any rare migratory bird, Ospreys, Black Storks, Eagles etc.  
Nothing was more shocking this Raptor Camp then the shooting of a Black Stork from behind Buskett, while the police was present in the same Bird Sanctuary. One of our teams of volunteers managed to get video evidence of this brutal killing. It is crystal clear that these illegal hunters need stronger penalties from our courts, coupled with serious investigations, to break the ring of trafficking of protected birds.

Police Enforcement
ALE in the field.
Photo: David Nigel Griffiths

Unfortunately some of the enforcement officers on site at the nightwatch of the Black Stork had already given up on the Stork making it out alive. Is it perhaps necessary to remind them that it is their responsibility to prevent this from happening? Was the embarrassment at failing to protect this bird the reason why I wasn’t allowed to photograph the Black Stork for BirdLife Malta?

While writing this blogpost we are still collecting data on police and army presence in the field. However the average number of enforcement officers is well below the promises of Parliamentary Secretary Roderick Galdes. Apart from the crucial numbers in the field, I fail to understand how the police can do their job without even using scopes and binoculars. These are essential if you need to protect migrating birds; how can you identify if a hunter shot a protected bird otherwise? In the last few years some equipment had been given in donation by charities to the police. Is this equipment just being kept locked away?  To add insult to injury the Police Commissioner refused to allow BirdLife Malta and CABS a police officer (paid for by BirdLife Malta and CABS) which would collaborate with our teams in the field to bring criminals to justice; he simply said that all police officers are needed by the police force in the field.

Greater presence of Locals
To end on a positive note, one of the successes of this year’s Raptor Camp was getting more locals engaged out in the field with Raptor Camp teams. We had all kind of volunteers coming from different backgrounds helping out and this gave BirdLife Malta a lot of courage. Not only are locals not happy with the situation but they are also willing to work to change it. 

Raptor Camp 13 Group Photo!
Photo: Robert Spanring

To support BirdLife Malta’s bird protection camps and other work to end illegal hunting in the Maltese Islands please Join BirdLife Malta

You can also DONATE to help us meet the ever increasing costs of the camps, including the purchasing of essential equipment for monitoring and recording illegalities like shooting at protected birds to support police prosecution of illegal hunters.

Raptor Camp 2013 is being supported by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, who have provided photo/video-scope equipment for use in BirdLife Malta activities to prevent and detect illegal hunting.