A shameful start to the autumn hunting season with 32 known protected birds shot, the latest being a Peregrine Falcon

October 13, 2016 4:35 pm

BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana addressing the media in Valletta about the autumn hunting season 2016 (Photo by Nathaniel Attard)

“At the end of this week, it will have been a month and a half since the start of the autumn hunting season on 1st September.

This year we witnessed a massacre of protected species with a total of 32 known protected birds shot down, the latest case which we are announcing today being that of a Peregrine Falcon – an iconic species for Malta – which happened at the beginning of this week in Imqabba. The Peregrine Falcon, whom many call the ‘Maltese Falcon’, had to be euthanised due to the grevious injuries it suffered with a gunshot.These are the illegal hunting incidents we are aware of since there are without any shadow of doubt countless others, besides the larger than usual number of injured birds which our ornithologists and birdwatchers observed during the period when raptor migration reached its peak. The list is huge, with more than 120 illegalities observed to date. BirdLife Malta possesses evidence related to more than 70 of these incidents.


The Peregrine Falcon which was shot down in Imqabba last Monday (Photo by Nicholas Barbara)

This is what you get when hunting is permitted without any enforcement. Although we have around 100 hunters who also shoot with their camera, we have to bear in mind that our small country with very limited natural space, has a total of 10,000 hunters who do not think twice to break the law if and when they are aware that enforcement is lacking so they can get away with it.”

This was stated by BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana during a press conference earlier this morning in Valletta where he listed the hunting illegalities reported up to now this autumn hunting season. (press here to see list).

He also spoke about the Government’s legal notice of the past few days announcing the bird trapping season from 20th October, despite the fact that Malta is facing legal action by the European Commission over allowing the trapping of seven species of finch.


One of 2 Black Storks which were shot down at the start of this year’s season (Photo by BirdLife Malta)

With the help of footage and photo evidence which was collected through BirdLife Malta’s annual Raptor Camp which has now come to an end, Mark Sultana explained that with this year’s massacre of protected birds we are back to the old days and it is more than evident that the lack of action by the authorities has left a negative impact, with more rampant abuse taking place. Admittedly, the authorities themselves are saying that enforcement by the Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) unit this year was boosted late in the season, giving out the excuse that this happened because migration of raptors peaked earlier than usual. Birds themselves paid the price for this and up to now – as far as we know – nobody has been arraigned.

It is a pity that as the situation deteriorated day by day the Government did not heed BirdLife Malta’s earlier calls for the suspension of the autumn hunting season so that birds of prey migrating over Malta could make a safe passage. This would have led to this year’s massacre being avoided. But instead of taking action, the Government passed the buck onto the Ornis Committee contrary to what happened in previous years when it did not wait for Ornis to take a decision and did not hesitate to close the season at the very first illegality as evidence published by BirdLife Malta over the past few weeks goes to prove.


An injured Marsh Harrier at Fawwara (Photo by BirdLife Malta)

Is it a coincidence that the Government is not willing to take any action? What is it afraid of? Could the upcoming general elections be the reason? It is worth noting that everytime an election is getting near enforcement becomes ineffective and BirdLife Malta fears that after this year’s lack of action, next year will be worse as the date of the election gets nearer and nearer. It is more than evident that when hunters are given a free ride, illegalities increase and this year is a case in point.

It is also indeed a pity that we are witnessing uncontrolled illegal hunting when during this migration season we have observed a considerable number of rarities over the Maltese Islands, registering new bird records for Malta in some cases. This goes to confirm that Malta forms part of an important flyway for such birds which migrate over our country on their way to Africa from Finland, Italy and other countries in East and central Europe.

In these circumstances BirdLife Malta insists on the importance of the establishment of a Wildlife Crime Unit for Malta. This specialised unit would strengthen the police to be in a position to combat criminal acts related to nature and environmental law enforcement. It is clear that Malta needs a stronger law enforcement agency within the police force to work closely with NGOs to safeguard the birds and nature of our islands.


A Bee-eater with wing injuries observed at Laferla Cross (Photo by BirdLife Malta)

Finally, a word of thanks must go to the general public who care for our animals and birds and act accordingly, cooperating with BirdLife Malta and reporting any abuse. “We urge the public to continue doing so and apart from reporting to us and the police also to support us in the work we do by becoming members. We have just launched ‘Help us fly’, a membership drive to encourage more people to join us” stated BirdLife Malta’s CEO.

A number of other BirdLife Malta officials also addressed today’s press conference including BirdLife’s Conservation Manager Nicholas Barbara and Conservation Coordinator and Raptor Camp leader Nick Piludu.

Press here to see video edit which was broadcast to journalists during the press conference highlighting the illegalities observed during the start of the hunting season.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.