The numbers and what they mean…

October 3, 2013 5:02 pm

Ole Friis Larsen is a professional journalist and editor of newspapers for some 30 years. He has been coming to Raptor Camp for past six years. 

by Ole Friis Larsen
Ole keeps a watch as dusk approaches.
Photo: John Aldridge

An afternoon on this year’s Raptor Camp I was with a team at Laferla Cross. Migration was low, and so were the presence of hunters. There were simply no legal birds to hunt. Then a juvenile Honey Buzzard flew low into the valley at Girgenti, and suddenly it was shot at five or six times as it passed a group of trees near the cross. It was obvious, that the shots was an attempt to kill this beautiful protected species, since we had not experienced any other hunting in the area for some time, and after the bird seemed to continue unharmed, the shooting seized, until another Honey Buzzard took the same route into the valley … 

During six years’ work with colleagues from BirdLife Malta and other countries, I have seen many protected birds being killed from a poacher in a hide just below those trees – Honey Buzzards, Night Herons, Kestrels, Hobbies, Marsh Harriers, Bee-Eaters …  But we have never managed to stop the poachers. They stay out of sight, well aware that they are true criminals and have everything to hide.
A few days before I left Denmark to join the camp and work with old and new friends from many countries, an officer from BirdLife Denmark asked me for reports and other proof of illegal killing of birds in Malta and other Mediterranean countries. Especially he asked for scientific material. He was excused, for he is a biologist used to work with reliable statistics.
But when it comes to poaching there are of course no easy numbers. Poachers does not report their illegal killings to any authority, not even legal hunters seems to report them to their organizations. We often observe birds killed by hidden poachers among hunters, we know for their legal hunting. Why do the accept it? Are they afraid? I do not have the answer, I can only wonder why. They know for sure, who the perpetrators are.

It has become increasingly difficult to gather 
evidence and numbers. The poachers of 
course have learned, that we are present, 
trying to protect the birds on their migration 
and to stop the poaching, so they perform 
their misdeeds from hides, where we can not 
see them, and they do their killings in places, 
where we are not present.

That is another reason, why numbers are not 
reliable. Lower numbers of birds observed 
killed, are not necessarily the same as lesser 
poaching and an improved situation for the 
birds. The weather, a poor breeding season 
for Honey Buzzards in Europa and other 
conditions also influence the numbers.
The hunters federation ”strongly condemns” 
killing of rare birds like a Black Stork this 
September and then underline, that such 
incidents are rare. The problem is, that such 
statements are actually most of all an attempt 
to hide and deny the truth about all those 
everyday killings, we see on protected 
The fact is however, that there is still a lot of 
everyday killings going on, wherever and 
whenever there are armed men with hunting
 guns around. If there are no legal birds to 
shoot, some of them just turn their weapons 
against protected species.

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.