Maltese countryside ‘one giant bird trap’ as more poachers apprehended

Two massive illegal traps found in FKNK-managed Miżieb – poacher duo arrested, including notorious relapser

A derogation from the EU’s ban on bird trapping in Malta has been dubbed a ‘Trojan horse’ by German conservationists CABS (Committee Against Bird Slaughter), who are monitoring the countryside in the autumn.

CABS accused Gozo minister Clint Camilleri, under whose purview falls the Wild Birds Regulation Unit, of opening a new trapping season while the previous one was still facing an infringement proceeding from the European Commission.

Malta is derogating from the EU ban by claiming the trapping season serves as a research study.

The illegal mist-net in Miżieb
The illegal mist-net in Miżieb

CABS press officer Axel Hirschfeld said the Maltese countryside had been turned into “one giant bird trap”, and that the Maltese government was trying to fool the EU and the public to protect the “selfish and anti-social activity of bird poaching.”

CABS teams reported a total of 51 cases of illegal trapping to the authorities in the last three weeks. The police have already confiscated over 238 finches and trapping equipment worth several thousands of euros.

One man was caught trapping illegally 24 hours after he was convicted for the same offence. “As enforcement is very low this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Hirschfeld said. “Whatever results will emerge from this ‘research project’, they will come at the cost of the lives and the freedom of thousands wild birds.”

An illegal Hawfinch decoy
An illegal Hawfinch decoy

Hunting lobby FKNK yesterday labelled CABS and Birdlife Malta’s “arrogant persecution, through espionage, provocation, violation of private property and arbitrary exercise of alleged rights to the serious detriment of trappers taking part in the research”.

FKNK also urged the government to protect trappers from CABS.

CABS countered by saying that it will be extending its monitoring efforts until the end of the year “in the face of the chaotic situation in the field.”

An illegal Hawfinch decoy
An illegal Hawfinch decoy

CABS observers last Sunday revealed a massive illegal trapping complex surrounded by seven-foot-high razor wire fence and guard dogs within the limits of the Miżieb woodland – an area managed by the FKNK. The police were called and arrested a duo of poachers operating two sets of clap-nets and a large vertical mist net, which were seized by EPU. The mist net contained a freshly-caught robin which was liberated by EPU officers on site.

CABS said the police neither confiscated the live decoys used for the mist-net nor did the officers inspect the aviaries containing dozens of finches inside the fenced complex.

“One of the two poachers is a participant of the government’s ‘study project’ and tried to lead police officers by the nose by presenting paperwork from WBRU confirming that he is a ‘government-approved scientist’. But as this ‘licence’ did not cover the site in question it was regarded as irrelevant and the police will press charges against him for trapping birds with an illegal mist-net which was set up nearby.

“His trapping partner was caught operating the unregistered finch trapping site. The police confirmed to CABS that the man is a notorious relapser, and has also been reported by CABS in 2016 and 2018 for which he was taken to court both times.”

Hirschfeld said this was just one of dozens of cases which prove that Miżieb was still a oaching hotspot. “We are asking FKNK: How many cases of poaching have been reported by your organisation? How is it possible that in an area frequented by hundreds of FKNK members none of them saw and reported these illegal traps?

“We urge the government to stop the controversial trapping project and increase the minimum fines for illegal bird trapping determined in the law so they can serve as a genuine deterrent.”