Precisely one month to the day from the exceptional eagle migration that ended up with at least ten out of an estimated 60 Short-toed and Booted Eagles being killed at the beginning of November, another of these rare eagles was shot down over Girgenti yesterday.
The protected Booted Eagle (Ajkla tal-Kalzetti) is a very rare eagle species for Malta and reports that one of these magnificent birds of prey was observed flying over the airport first came in yesterday at around midday. A few hours later, at around 15:00 more reports came in that the eagle was sighted at Girgenti where it was being illegally targeted by hunters. Eventually, after other reports which BirdLife Malta received that shots were being fired at the eagle as it flew over the valley, the eagle was lost over Girgenti.
It was around an hour later that fresh information led BirdLife Malta staff to retrieve the raptor from Girgenti Valley. The bird, which was found not moving, was immediately visited and diagnosed by a doctor. After taking an X-ray, the vet certified the grevious injuries that the Booted Eagle had suffered due to gunshots and it was decided that the bird had to be euthanised. The eagle had its right leg broken and a pellet in its abdomen which was larger than permitted by law – indicative of the intent to specifically target birds of prey.
The Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus) is a medium-sized mostly migratory bird of prey with a wide distribution in the Palearctic and southern Asia, wintering in the tropics of Africa and Asia, with a small, disjunct breeding population in south-western Africa. It is considered as the smallest eagle in Europe.
Since the start of the autumn hunting season in September which this year brought about a massacre of protected species, BirdLife Malta rescued and ensured veterinary care for around 100 injured birds. These range from the protected Booted Eagle and the iconic Peregrine Falcon to countless trushes, quail and starlings.
This number does not include the large amount of known shot birds and the endless list of other known illegalities reported since the start of this year’s hunting season, particularly at the peak of raptor migration, such as the Black Storks, buzzards and herons.
In these circumstances, ironically, the only known arraignment by the police so far was that of the 3rd of November when a 23-year-old Mosta man was charged in court with shooting one of the Booted Eagles observed over the Maltese Islands during the exceptional eagle migration last month. It was evidence collected by BirdLife Malta which led to his arrest. The suspect was granted bail against a €2,000 deposit and a personal guarantee of €10,000.
BirdLife Malta continues to insist 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.