Illegal hunting killed at least 99 birds last year: BirdLife Malta says this is the tip of the iceberg

In its annual assessment of illegal hunting and trapping, BirdLife says 2019 was the second-worst year in the past seven

Protected Grey Heron shot down in September
Protected Grey Heron shot down in September

There were 99 illegally shot birds last year, in what BirdLife Malta described as the tip of the iceberg.

The number only represents the bird casualties retrieved by BirdLife and the police, which suggests that the number could probably be higher.

BirdLife released its annual assessment on illegal hunting and trapping. "The casualties make 2019 the second-worst year for illegal hunting since 2015," the organisation said.

In a statement on Monday, the NGO said that the numbers only represented the tip of the iceberg since many other shot birds are never found or end up in taxidermy collections.

BirdLife said it had received nearly 400 reports from the public - an average of eight per day - in response to its No More Callers campaign to weed out the widespread and unregulated use of electronic bird callers.

Clap nets at a trapping site
Clap nets at a trapping site

The organisation said that uncontrolled trapping of finches, which it said should be illegal following a landmark European Court of Justice judgment delivered two years ago, was putting Malta at risk of facing an escalation of infringement proceedings by the European Commission.

It said the derogation applied by Malta allowing trappers to catch two bird species was being used as a smokescreen for the largescale trapping of protected finches.

The NGO said that the authorities failed to have any form of control over legally hunted or trapped birds. “Following the 2018 Game Reporting Data Report from WBRU including results from only 9% of hunters and trappers who bothered reporting any catches, this year’s trapping season miraculously reached the season’s quota of 700 trapped Golden Plover at the last few hours of the last day!”

BirdLife said that despite all this, the government continued to ignore the proposal for the setting up of a Wildlife Crime Unit to enforce the laws. The creation of such a dedicated unit enjoys unanimous backing of all the members of the Ornis Committee, BirdLife said.

It added that more than a year has passed since Ornis recommended to then parliamentary secretary Clint Camilleri the creation of such a unit.

BirdLife Malta said the hunting and trapping seasons were characterised by an Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) Police unit at its lowest-ever capacity in recent years, with zero back-ups from the specialist enforcement branch within the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU).

BirdLife Malta said that the unit had ended up with zero staff assigned to it following various resignations over the past few years. “This has led to a nonchalant attitude by the government towards illegalities, as characterised by several episodes of protected birds being killed – from the initial massacre of Greater Flamingos in August before the season opened, to the shooting of a flock of rare Short-toed Eagles in November, with all birds believed to have been shot dead.”

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