BirdLife Malta has in its possession exclusive footage which shows one of the officials of the Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FKNK) blatantly breaking the law during this year’s spring hunting season, a few days before it came to an end on Saturday.
During the season, particularly in the last few days when Turtle Dove migration started reaching its peak, BirdLife Malta reported the rampant illegal killing of Turtle Dove despite the fact that hunting for this protected bird was not permitted this spring, and the season was supposedly open only for Quail.
We have hours of footage to prove that illegal shooting of this vulnerable and red-listed species took place during the second part of the season, also due to the fact that unfortunately the Government did not heed the advice it was given and purposely opened a spring hunting season which coincided with peak Turtle Dove migration.
Filmed shooting at protected Turtle Dove while hunting at Miżieb, an area not normally associated with Quail
One of several hunters filmed hunting Turtle Doves during the hunting season, all footage passed to police
Amongst all this footage, which has earlier today been passed to the Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) police unit, we have footage which shows FKNK official Lawrence Vella sitting in his hunting hide in Miżieb. The footage was filmed on 16th April and at one point, Vella can be seen standing up, raising his gun and shooting at a protected Turtle Dove three times consecutively, with the bird clearly seen in the footage falling out of the sky.
Lawrence Vella is an FKNK official on the hunting organisation’s sub-committee for Miżieb, which it considers as a ‘hunting reserve’. The sub-committee is reponsible for the management of the site. In the footage we are releasing today, we are also including a clip showing Vella being interviewed on behalf of FKNK in September 2015 on TVM, Malta’s national television station. This footage was also shot in Miżieb and clearly identifies Vella as the hunter in the illegal hunting episode filmed by our Spring Watch teams last week.
Wooded areas like FKNK-managed Miżieb are a magnet for Turtle Doves and not for Quail, which was the only huntable species this spring hunting season. Apart from the fact that Miżieb does not provide the adequate habitat for Quail, as explained in our #NotAQuail campaign preceding the hunting season, hunting methods used for Quail differ a lot from those employed to hunt Turtle Dove. One main difference is that to shoot Turtle Doves hunters sit and wait for their prey in their hide, and then shoot at it in the sky when it flies over; whilst on the other hand, Quail is flushed from the ground.
In the footage being released today, Vella is seen in Miżieb sitting in a hide and aiming for the sky before opening fire. Since Quail was the only species permitted to hunt this spring, any shots on birds flying above – Turtle Dove or not – indicate an illegal act of shooting at protected birds. Irrespective of this, the BirdLife Malta team who was monitoring the area for illegalities and captured the footage clearly identified the illegally shot bird as a Turtle Dove.
Whilst confirming the wave of illegal hunting on Turtle Doves as anticipated by BirdLife Malta, such episodes also go to show that hunters completely disregarded the calls made by FKNK itself to not put in danger in any way the derogation for hunting of Turtle Dove in spring and abide by the law. More serious is the fact that it is not only paid members of the hunting lobby who are ignoring these calls and engaging in illegal acts, but even officials of the federation itself who should lead by example.
This high profile case of illegal hunting and all the others also show that the moratorium on hunting for Turtle Dove, for the second year running, was only a joke, with hunters deliberately ignoring it. This incident proves once again how illegal killing is more widespread than one would initially think. It also shows how the Government was taken for a ride when the hunting lobby pressed for the spring hunting dates to be moved to cover the peak season of the Turtle Dove.
A few days before the season closure, FKNK publicly stated that it will not tolerate any abuses and warned any members caught breaking the law that if found guilty they will be suspended and their hunting licence will be withdrawn. We trust that with the very clear evidence we are presenting today, FKNK will put its words into action and immediately suspend its official who was caught on camera breaking the law from his role and also as a member, condemn his actions, disassociate itself from his wrongdoings and above all, collaborate with the enforcement authorities to bring him to justice.
Finally, as an update on this year’s spring hunting season casualties, during the past days since the end of the season on Saturday BirdLife Malta and the police continued to receive more illegally shot protected birds which were confirmed shot by the vet despite the fact that the season is now closed. After the 18 shot birds recovered during the season between 1st and 21st April, we received another four illegally shot protected birds which include another two Turtle Doves, with the total now standing at 22. This is an increase of seven dead or injured protected birds recovered when compared to the numbers for 2017.
Read the Maltese version of the press release here.