BirdLife Malta calls for independent wildlife police unit

BirdLife Malta has called for an independent wildlife police unit to be set up amid allegations of police complicity in illegal hunting

BirdLife Malta has called for a Wildlife Crime Unit to be set up within the police force to independently tackle illegal hunting (File photo)
BirdLife Malta has called for a Wildlife Crime Unit to be set up within the police force to independently tackle illegal hunting (File photo)

BirdLife Malta has called for a Wildlife Crime Unit to be set up within the police force to independently tackle illegal hunting, as it claims that police officers have been complicit in the practice.

While lamenting over lack of police presence in the field due to activities related to Malta’s presidency of the EU Council, the conservation group said that “this shameful year will also be remembered for the involvement of police officers in wildlife crime incidents, in particular hunting cases.”

BirdLife Malta pointed to a report by the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), where activists filmed a poacher hunting during a closed season with a police officer sat by his side for at least an hour. It claimed that the police officer helped the poacher spot passing birds and to adjust his binoculars.

BirdLife Malta also made reference to the investigation into Gozitan police officers following the incident involving British naturalist Chris Packham, who was acquitted of having assaulted the owners of a Gozo property and trespassing on the same property.

Packham, who was making an independent film about Malta’s spring hunt, had called the police after discovering a large cage of protected wild species, including goldfinch, moorhen, starlings and turtle doves. It is illegal to keep some of these birds in captivity.

Packham said in his testimony in court that while he and his crew were filming an aviary on private property from the street, four men stopped near them and told them to leave. He told Magistrate Joseph Mifsud that a man had jostled him around while he himself kept his hands down by his side and said nothing. 

Packham said that a policeman had also pushed him three times although he did confirm that he and his crew were on public land. 

BirdLife Malta today claimed that one of the police officers who had intervened and “aggressively threatened” Packham on the day was himself a hunter, while the other officer involved hails from the same village of one of the trappers.

“To add insult to injury … in court, police testified falsely against Packham and against BirdLife Malta’s Conservation Manager Nicholas Barbara,” BirdLife Malta added.

The group described the situation “worrying”, particularly in Gozo, lamenting that police are “normally only reactive taking hardly any proactive measures to ensure that hunting regulations are observed.”

BirdLife Malta said that this pointed to the need for the setting up of a responsive Wildlife Crime Unit which would be “independent and totally dedicated to wildlife crime, without it being influenced politically or taken up by other major events in the country.”

“Only this would deliver the true commitment needed for the conservation of wild birds,” BirdLife Malta said.

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