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Buck passed to Ornis Committee as more illegal killings are recorded

BirdLife Malta has called on the government to suspend the autumn hunting season until October 15, when the migration of birds of prey is over

miriam
Miriam Dalli
19 September 2016, 1:28pm
Hunters nearly killed Steve Haston and his colleague when they shot three Honey Buzzards while snorkelling
Hunters nearly killed Steve Haston and his colleague when they shot three Honey Buzzards while snorkelling
The government will not be taking any action as more protected birds of prey are being illegally shot dead by hunters, with yet another case being reported in Gozo – this time almost resulting in the injury of a swimmer.

While questions sent to junior minister Roderick Galdes and Ornis Committee chairman Mark Anthony Falzon have remained unanswered, a spokesperson for the Office of the Prime Minister has reiterated that it is up to the Ornis Committee to recommend a suspension of the autumn hunting season, if it feels the need.

Earlier this week, the killing of two Black Storks – bringing the number of illegally shot birds to 15 in a span of five days – led to calls by BirdLife Malta to suspend the autumn hunting season until October 15, when the migration of birds of prey is over. 

However, the Office of the Prime Minister has insisted that updates to the law have now empowered the Ornis Committee to make recommendations concerning the closure or alteration of any parameter of any hunting season. 

“Through these amendments, decisions are now taken following expert consideration of various technical factors rather than just at the discretion of the politician, in line with good governance principles,” a spokesperson for Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said.

Yet, the law also states that the minister may revise the parameters of the hunting season “on the basis of […] or any other reason which the Minister deems to be of sufficient gravity”.

Questions to Galdes asking whether he deemed the current situation to be grievous went unanswered. 

Yesterday, a swimmer in Gozo recounted how he had been in the water when a hunter started shooting at a Honey Buzzard… and nearly killing him in the process. Steve Haston said on his blog that hunters nearly killed him and his colleague when they shot three Honey Buzzards while snorkelling.

After swimming to safety, he recouped the body of one of the birds hit by the bullets
After swimming to safety, he recouped the body of one of the birds hit by the bullets
Honey Buzzards are protected birds of prey under Maltese law. 

“A very large band of honey buzzards flew next to us and we were nearly shot. Two hunters were firing at the buzzards without care for us. Buzzards are protected, but so theoretically are swimmers!” Haston wrote. 

Haston said that the bullets kept flying despite him shouting at the hunters.

After swimming to safety, he recouped the body of one of the birds hit by the bullets, which however later died.

Haston said he saw the poacher riding a dirt bike as he fled the scene, and said that he was part of a large group of “maybe 10 hunters shooting birds over the sea on this section of the cliff.”

BirdLife Malta later confirmed with the Gozo Police that three protected birds had been killed.

“BirdLife Malta remains adamant that this rampant illegal killing will keep going on unless the Government takes immediate action today. Once again we are calling on the Prime Minister to suspend the hunting season till October 15. This is the only way the limited enforcement efforts can give some results,” BirdLife Malta said. 

“It would be surprising to know that the Government does not think this is alarming and we expect the Government to take the bold decision rather than pass the buck to the Ornis Committee.”

Haston said the poacher was riding a dirt bike as he fled the scene
Haston said the poacher was riding a dirt bike as he fled the scene
Contacted by MaltaToday, BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana insisted that there was “enough evidence” for the government to order a suspension of the season.

Asked whether BirdLife Malta will be calling for a meeting of the Ornis Committee, Sultana insisted that the government needed to be consistent in its decisions.

“We feel that there is no need for the Ornis Committee to meet because the evidence is clear. The government in 2014 took the right decision to suspend the hunting season without any calls from the Ornis Committee. We believe that government has to be consistent. What’s the difference between what’s happening today and 2014?” Sultana said.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had ordered the closure of the autumn hunting season following the killing of white storks. It had also preceded the spring hunting referendum, which took place a few months later in 2015.

miriam
Miriam Dalli joined MaltaToday.com.mt in 2010 and was assistant editor fr...