Peak migration of birds of prey greeted with massacre

September 25, 2021 1:11 pm

South-westerly winds yesterday favoured a peak in observed migration of birds of prey, with BirdLife Malta and Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) teams witnessing rampant illegal hunting across various locations on Malta and Gozo. Several birds were seen being shot illegally, with injured birds being recovered in the evening and members of the public inundating BirdLife Malta with calls reporting shooting at birds of prey as they sought places where to roost for the night.

Hunters take advantage of low police presence to kill protected birds across the Maltese Islands

Illegal hunting incidents were witnessed across various locations such as Dingli, Victoria Lines, Siġġiewi and Rabat in Malta and Xlendi, Marsalforn, Għasri and Għarb on Gozo, with shooting extending into the evening beyond the 7pm curfew currently in place to protect birds of prey. Targeted birds included mostly Honey-buzzards but also Eurasian Hobby and Common Kestrel.

Calls made for assistance to the Environmental Protection Unit (EPU) saw a single police unit for the whole island of Malta attempting to answer to the ongoing situation, while Gozo Police informed they had no field units and only district police could attend. Three protected species were recovered just yesterday evening in the space of a few hours with a dead Hobby recovered by a CABS team from Xlendi, an injured Honey-buzzard found by a hiker in Miżieb, and an injured Common Kestrel from Santa Luċija. Two other highly-prized species that made a presence yesterday included a Black Stork and a Lesser Spotted Eagle, with the latter suspected missing after yesterday’s massacre. This follows another four illegally shot birds retrieved the day before, including a Marsh-harrier and a Night-heron recovered by police.

Commenting on the situation at stake, BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana stated: “It is unconceivable that during peak migration of birds of prey, police presence on the ground is weak when up to 11,000 hunters are given a licence to hunt during these days. It is not a coincidence that such lack of enforcement is always experienced in the run-up to a general election, with political leaders on both sides remaining silent on this issue, while voicing their appease to those that break the law.”

CABS spokesperson Axel Hirschfeld also commented on the situation: “The main driver for this illegal hunting remains taxidermy collections which remain unchecked and unverified and which allow yesterday’s perpetrators to continue amassing on the already half a million plus number of protected species housed by hunters in their residences. Over the years we keep seeing no will to remedy this loophole, but rather a call from hunting organisations to continue tweaking legislation and administrative procedures to favour this”.

With the tally of illegally shot protected birds recovered by BirdLife Malta and police now numbering 21 since the start of the autumn hunting season on the 1st of September and indicating another record year for illegal hunting casualties, BirdLife Malta and CABS call on the Police Commissioner to justify the weak presence in the field and appeal for the EPU to up their enforcement effort on both islands from now into October during which time a steady migration of protected species is expected.

Both organisations deplore the melting pot that has led to the current situation with a hunting season open during peak periods when birds of prey are roosting thanks to the removal of the 3pm curfew in 2015, thin enforcement on the ground allowing hunters to kill protected species during such times undetected unless watched over by volunteer teams on the ground, and a complete lack of control on taxidermy collections after the amnesties to hunters granted in 1996 and 2003. To add insult to injury, the Gozo Minister’s Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) keeps being requested by hunting organisations to make further amends and loopholes in what should be regulations protecting such European species and not hunters’ interests.

This all sends a message to the hunting community to continue shooting on protected species unabated, making Malta a cemetery of Europe’s birds impacting conservation efforts such as the case of the endangered Egyptian Vulture that went missing earlier this month. Malta is currently facing several EU infringement procedures on hunting and trapping, one of which mentions specifically the lack of adequate protection afforded to wild birds. Such situations aggravate Malta’s ability to defend itself in front of the European Court of Justice.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.

Video edit showing an illegally shot Western Marsh-harrier and Night-heron recovered by police (Footage by BirdLife Malta, editing by Nathaniel Attard)