There’s more than three months left to it, but 2020 is already Malta’s worst year for illegal hunting, BirdLife Malta has charged.
In a statement, the NGO said that by last Tuesday, 139 protected birds had been retrieved after being shot illegally, a number higher than that registered in any of the last 8 years. A total of 618 birds have been retrieved since 2013, of which 70% have been retrieved in the last four years.
BirdLife was adamant that the blame lay with a government which bent over backwards to accommodate hunting and trapping.
“When the Wild Birds Regulation Unit took over the enforcement of bird protection laws from the Environment & Resources Authority, enforcement deteriorated to being non-existent. To add insult to injury, last January Prime Minister Robert Abela moved WBRU – which is run by hunters and trappers – under the Minister of Gozo Clint Camilleri; a well-known pro-hunter and trapper,” BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana maintained. “Malta has never experienced a government so much in favour of hunting and trapping.”
With the autumn migration season underway, the NGO’s Raptor Camp has been monitoring illegal hunting in Malta, with the Committee Against Bird Slaughter running its own monitoring efforts.
Undermanned police not spotting anything
As was the case for CABS, BirdLife’s volunteers witnessed “a high disregard for the law and poor effectiveness from the newly-rebranded Environmental Police Unit within the Police.”
The police unit, it said, was woefully undermanned for the task at hand, with 15 officers having to deal with 10,600 registered hunters. In previous years, the unit would be backed up by at least 40 officers from other sections during the migration season for birds of prey.
“CABS and BirdLife Malta are witnessing numerous illegalities, but the EPU officers are not,” BirdLife’s head of conservation Nicholas Barbara highlighted.
“Illegalities such as the indiscriminate use of bird callers, shooting at protected species, hunting after the 7pm curfew, hunting after the 1pm curfew on Sundays and public holidays are now a daily occurrence. Calling for assistance by EPU in the last days meant waiting for the use of a single vehicle patrolling all of Malta,” he continued. “Our volunteers are also facing a lot of abuse and intimidation by hunters, with one particular incident in Girgenti documented and reported to the Rabat Police station – action should be taken shortly”.
The NGO was thus urging the government to boost the EPU with immediate effect, and to transfer responsibility for the protection of birds from a “weakened and biased” WBRU to the ERA.
It also urged the general public to keep on participating in its #onthemove campaign reporting both bird sightings and illegalities or injured birds.