An exceptional migration of rare eagles on Malta has ended up with various casualties yesterday evening and earlier this morning in the outskirts of Rabat where most of these birds roosted for the night. An estimated 60 Short-toed Eagles and Booted Eagles sought refuge after crossing over from Sicily, marking this a record migration at this time of year.
The eagles which arrived in distinct flocks, were first sighted over the University of Malta area shortly before 15:00, following which they congregated over the Rabat environs, before settling for the night in Girgenti, Fawwara, Ġebel Ciantar, Saqqajja and Xagħra tal-Isqof areas.
News of the eagle migration expected from Sicily came in the early afternoon with police authorities and the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) being alerted by BirdLife Malta, just before they were sighted. The first incidents were witnessed around 15:30 with two eagles being shot at, at Dingli, and another eagle receiving up to eight shots over the Xagħra tal-Isqof area. Later on, at least another two eagles were gunned down in the same area, with all incidents reported for police to act. Other incidents witnessed during the same evening included a Booted Eagle being shot at over Santa Katarina valley and an eagle shot down near Fawwara. In two of the cases where birds were seen shot down, police conducted searches late into the evening without any known outcome.
Volunteers and staff from BirdLife Malta scoured the areas around Buskett yesterday afternoon and evening keeping a watch over the likely targets, as police units initially only numbered two cars in the area, despite earlier warnings made by the organisation. A similar migration of over 50 rare eagles had ended up with over 15 casualties on the 23rd October 2013, with BirdLife Malta recovering over three shot birds at the time, and enforcement units struggling to keep up with the incidents. Government at the time had reacted with doubling fines on illegal hunting as a deterrent.
This morning, a further incident was witnessed by a BirdLife Malta team at Tal-Virtù, who recorded the incident on video, leading police to retrieve the carcass of a Booted Eagle and identify a suspect. Video footage has been passed to the police to help in the case.
Commenting on the incidents of this morning, BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana said: “These illegal hunting incidents over the last two days on protected species is a sad embarrassment for law enforcement, which those persisting in the drive to kill and collect rare species take advantage of. We appeal to the Prime Minister to take this matter seriously and set up a wildlife crime unit with appropriate resources and training.”
The latest illegal hunting incidents continue to top the list of illegalities over this autumn hunting season as more shot injured birds continued to be recovered from BirdLife Malta, police and the Wild Birds Regulation Unit.
“Current law on hunting and trapping demands a minimum of seven police officers to be out patrolling for every 1,000 licenses. Yesterday’s sudden arrival of this exceptional number of eagles has found enforcement measures outnumbered and thin on the ground.” concluded Mark Sultana.
BirdLife Malta appeals to all members of the public to record and report illegal hunting and trapping incidents by calling 119 or its offices on 21347 646. It also encourages support via memberships to continue striving for a better protection of our environment.