Resident Greater Flamingo at Għadira shot and stolen from nature reserve

December 3, 2018 1:29 pm

The Greater Flamingo which has graced Għadira Nature Reserve for the past year and a half went missing from the site last Thursday 29th November. Hopeful that the bird might have left its wintering quarters in order to migrate, BirdLife Malta staff did not give the matter much attention until the real fate of the bird was discovered yesterday. Whilst patrolling part of the reserve usually kept isolated so as not to disturb birds, a used hunting cartridge was found alongside trampled vegetation.

Photo of the Greater Flamingo when it was released at Għadira in September 2017 together with another juvenile flamingo (Photo by BirdLife Malta)

Further searches identified a point of entry through which a hunter had made his way into the reserve in order to shoot the flamingo. BirdLife Malta believes the protected bird was taken since a small number of unmistakenly pink feathers were found at the exit point. On the night in question the watchman on site had checked the perimeter leading BirdLife Malta staff to assume a form of silenced shotgun had been used as no shots were heard. A police report was made and officers collected evidence on site to gain insight into who could have been responsible for this crime.

Police investigate illegal entry into the reserve at night by hunters, following the find of used hunting cartridge alongside trampled vegetation and pink feathers at identified point of entry

This is indeed a sad day for nature conservation in Malta since this bird had been at Għadira for over a year, since August 2017, when it was rescued from Armier Bay. It was in fact considered as a ‘resident’ of Għadira since it never left the reserve since it was released there in September 2017. Another flamingo which had been released with it on the same day, continued on its migration soon after.

The same Greater Flamingo in a photo taken a few weeks ago, showing the distinct pink plumage (Photo by Alvin Farrugia)

Having been a young bird when it was rehabilitated and released at the reserve, it had slowly but surely started acquiring the more typical pinkish plumage associated with this species. During the summer months this bird was joined by a flock of eight flamingos who then went on to spend more than four months at the reserve before moving on last month. At one point there was a record 14 flamingos at the Mellieħa-based reserve and this led BirdLife Malta to open the reserve to the public several times in August during the closed period for the summer break. The thousands of visitors who were given the opportunity to see the Greater Flamingos in this series of open days held at the reserve had watched in awe and photographed this iconic species.

We now know however that much still needs to be done to eradicate the spectre of illegal hunting which deprives citizens of the right and joy to enjoy such species. The issue of taxidermy must also be reviewed with urgency since birds such as this flamingo are probably the victims of taxidermy-fuelled demand. The issue of taxidermy collections has been flagged several times to the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) and Parliamentary Secretary Clint Camilleri but no action has been forthcoming to date. Checks were previously carried out to a limited degree by the Environment & Resources Authority (ERA) but now are at an all-time low.

This is the second illegal hunting incident involving the flamingos at Għadira in less than a month. On the 2nd of November, another flamingo was shot while another disappeared when a flock of three flew out of the reserve. A few minutes later only two returned with one clearly displaying a gunshot injury to its neck. Staff are particularly disappointed because the increased activity of this bird species at the reserve had led to the hope that it could one day breed in Malta, specifically at Għadira, which matches the preferred habitat of the Greater Flamingo.

It is unfortunately clear that the fencing around the reserve and the watchman on site is not enough of a deterrent to stop these criminals from such atrocious acts and therefore BirdLife Malta management will be stepping up their efforts to improve security to hopefully end further illegalities on site in the future. BirdLife Malta appeals for any information about this incident to be immediately relayed to the Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) unit of the Malta Police Force or directly to our offices.

In a year to be labelled as the worst year for the illegal hunting of protected birds in the past six years, such incidents just prove the sad reality that illegal hunting in Malta and Gozo is rampant.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.