Poachers threaten bird monitors and tourists as illegal trapping intensifies

Bird conservationists CABS report large-scale and widespread illegal trapping on Maltese and Gozo coasts

Live Linnet decoy confiscated by the police
Live Linnet decoy confiscated by the police

The German anti-poaching organisation CABS has reported 38 cases of poaching over the course of 10 days.

Committee Against Bird Slaughter said it has uncovered large-scale and widespread illegal trapping of protected songbirds on the coasts of Malta and Gozo.

“A total of 18 cases were reported to the police who confiscated 15 sets of clap nets and approximately 50 live birds. Five trappers were caught red-handed by the police and will be taken to court in due course,” CABS wildlife crime officer Fiona Burrows said.

Another 13 poachers ran off when they saw the police arriving, but CABS said it was optimistic that they will be subsequently identified.

“We have provided the police with our footage which shows their faces and, in some cases, also the vehicle registration of their cars,” Burrows said.

Gozo police dismantling nets
Gozo police dismantling nets

CABS also posted to social media surveillance footage of trapping sites in Hal-Far, Mgarr, Xlendi, Qrendi, Dingli, l’Ahrax and Sannat.

“Although 15 nets have been seized by the police, in three other incidents the nets were removed by the trappers before fleeing the scene. Live decoy birds were only seized when trapper abandoned them or if there was no visible ring. Unfortunately, there was no bird expert or enforcement officer available from the Wild Bird Regulation Unit (WBRU) able to conduct proper and thorough checks of the ringed birds,” Burrows added.

Additionally, 20 finch trapping sites confirmed as recently active from both an aerial survey and field investigations, have been reported to the police for further investigation. These include three trapping sites installed on the rooftop of the historical Cottonera Lines in Vittoriosa.

Trapping site on rooftop of Cottonera Lines
Trapping site on rooftop of Cottonera Lines

“In one recent incident at Hal Far, after realising that he was being watched, a poacher exposed himself to the team and later tried to run a CABS member over with his car in front of the police. There have also been several incidents of intimidation and threats made towards teams. A group of tourists were even chased by bird trappers on Dingli cliffs who wrongly suspected them to be CABS members,” Burrows said.

The committee said that finch trapping is a controversial practice in Malta which was declared illegal by the EU courts last year. CABS said following this verdict Malta had recently changed its legislation and banned finch trapping all year round. However, it said that the government does not seem to be “very eager to enforce the new rules.”

“If our teams can find 38 illegal sites in only 10 days this shows that the total ban only exists on paper,” CABS Press Officer Axel Hirschfeld said adding that Malta desperately needed an experienced, professional Wildlife Crime Unit to cope with its bird poaching problems.

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