Malta needs to solve the illegal hunting problem

October 4, 2021 12:49 pm

BirdLife Malta is urging the Government of Malta to reinitiate the verification process of stuffed protected bird collections that had benefitted from two amnesties in the past. During these amnesties offered in 1997 and 2003, hunters had declared over 520,000 stuffed protected birds.

Verification process of stuffed birds needs to resume

During the initial verification process under MEPA officials (where the actual collections were reconciled with the declared list and appropriately tagged), it became evident that most hunters had declared more birds than what they actually had. This was purposely done by those who still wanted to hunt protected birds after the amnesties so that they would still be in time to list them under the forgiven lists.

The verification process with collections being tagged stopped around six years ago, just a year or so after the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) was created. This means that hunters who have an unverified collection and shoot down protected birds can still include these birds in their collections and get away scot-free.

Confiscated illegally stuffed birds (Photo by BirdLife Malta)

In view of this, illegal hunting started to increase, becoming so rampant in the last four years that even the European Commission has been raising this issue with the Maltese Government. In fact, between 2014 and 2017 there were 190 protected birds that were verified by the government veterinarian as being illegally shot, compared to the shameful 523 illegally shot protected birds so far since 2018 (see bottom table). These figures are only the tip of the iceberg, since nearly all shot protected birds are retrieved by the hunters themselves, but they are indicative of the drastic upward trend.

The verification process is also very important as it regulates the hunting of protected birds, including those under the CITES Convention, by Maltese hunters on hunting trips abroad. These are normally smuggled in illegally in time to be placed in unverified collections.

Apart from the increase in illegal hunting of protected birds, the lacuna created when the verification process was halted has also fuelled the illegal trade of wildlife in Malta both from abroad and locally. Illegal hunters are making big money from selling shot protected birds to those who have their collections still unverified, and hence in time to include them. Such trading is not only illegal under the EU Birds Directive, but also under the EU Wildlife Trade regulations.

BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana stated: “Malta has a responsibility to solve the illegal hunting of protected birds. While enforcement remains crucial, it is also crucial that the verification process by a team of experts which the Government already has available, is reinstated. The Prime Minister and his Cabinet need to understand that the only ones benefitting from this delay are those that break the law.”

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.