Hunting lobby group says it is breeding turtle doves in their thousands

Meanwhile, BirdLife said that it had received two birds that were illegally shot since the autumn hunting season opened earlier this month

The FKNK said the released birds could serve as compensation for the turtle doves that 'may' have been taken from the wild
The FKNK said the released birds could serve as compensation for the turtle doves that 'may' have been taken from the wild

A programme for the captive-breeding and release of turtle doves which is being run by the Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FKNK) will see its third release of birds into the wild this coming June, the federation said.

The FKNK said that every year, on occasions like “Mnarja, Children’s Outings and the St Julian’s Feast, its members released turtle doves they had bred.

The project was launched in 2017 and has seen the FKNK release 400 birds in May of that year, and a further 700 in 2018.

“The aim of this project - which is one of several that the FKNK has embarked on, so that as soon as possible, the traditional turtle dove sprint hunting season will again be permissible – is the restocking of the wild population, which is the only tangible contribution that Malta can make to the conservation of this species in the wild,” the FKNK said.

“The released amount can serve as a compensation measure for the turtle doves that may be taken from the wild in the Maltese islands.”

It said that since the birds are bred in captivity, they are all adequately marked with rings before release.

The Ornis Committee, which is tasked with advising the government on hunting related matters, last month rejected a proposal by the FKNK for a moratorium on the hunting of turtle dove to be lifted.

Reacting to the decision, PN MEP candidate Peter Agius had said that while he agreed in principle with the FKNK’s proposal, he believed that any captive-breeding programme needed to be combined with a scientific study that could determine a species’ success when released in the wild.

“We need to see that the turtle doves being released from Malta are in fact surviving in the wild and are breeding themselves, because if they are, we can present a case before the Euroepan Commission in which we say that we are taking only what we are able to give back,” Agius said. 

Breeders must place closed rings on young 

In a statement released shortly afterwards, BirdLife said that it had received two turtle doves that were shot since the start of this autumn hunting season.

"On Wednesday we recovered a Turtle Dove which was witnessed being shot down by a member of the public who was walking with her children in Madliena. Less than 24 hours later, we found a shot Turtle Dove on FKNK-claimed land in Miżieb," BirdLife said. 

"Although the season is supposedly open only for Quail, as widely anticipated by BirdLife Malta, it continues to serve as a smokescreen for hunters to illegally shoot the red-listed Turtle Dove. With these two latest illegal hunting casualties, the total of known illegally shot protected birds for 2019 now stands at 26."

Moreover, the NGO said that the only way to determine between turtle doves bred in captivity and those trapped from the wild illegally, was to amend the law to have breeders place closed rings on the young.

“There is no doubt that a substantial amount of persons trap turtle doves from the wild with large cages. Although this is illegal, every year a number of these cages are found in various areas in Malta and Gozo,” BirdLife said.

It said that since the bird was also a “huntable species in autumn, the law does not punish anyone found in possession of live turtle doves”.

“Those trapping hundreds, if not thousands, of this vulnerable species are using this legal loophole and the only way to control this abuse is by changing the law accordingly. This would also distinguish between the genuine turtle dove breeders and the illegal trapper.”

BirdLife called on the FKNK and Kaccaturi San Umbertu to “understand that this would benefit their genuine members and that the only ones that would complain would be those trapping turtle doves illegally”.

It also urged the government to “address this situation”. 

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