Prime Ministerial intervention leads to closure of autumn hunting season

Autumn hunting season suspended until 10 October to protect birds of prey as they migrate towards the south seeking warmer grounds

White Storks - Photo Ray Galea
White Storks - Photo Ray Galea

The government has taken the draconian decision of closing the autumn hunting season until 10 October to safeguard birds of prey and other protected birds as they migrate towards the south.

The decision was taken on the instructions of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The autumn hunting season will be suspended as from 3pm today and will resume on 11 October, after which protected birds would have already migrated over the island.

“The government has decided to immediately stop the hunting season following the recent incidents where criminals repeatedly targeted protected birds,” the government said in a statement.

“We were clear from the start that while agreeing that hunters’ rights should be protected, abuses will not be tolerated.”

Noting that the majority of hunters respected the laws, a small group of criminals were however causing harm to the rest. The government said increased penalties and enforcement did not deter the criminal acts, “with some thinking they could go on doing whatever they like”.

The Ornis Committee chaired by Mark Anthony Falzon had taken the controversial decision of proposing the revocation of the 3pm hunting curfew in September. Since 2007, a 3pm curfew between 15 September and 30 September had been enforced to protect migrating birds of prey as they came in to roost.

Having completed their breeding season in Europe, birds of prey typically arrive in their masses as they make their way south to winter in Africa.

In Birds arriving late during the day scour the Maltese countryside flying low in search of suitable roosting sites, making them easy targets.

BirdLife’s Raptor Camp in 2013 recorded 54.5% of shooting at protected species occurring after 3pm, however government claimed that in 2013 there was a reduction in cases after 3pm and no cases were prosecuted by police for illegal hunting after 7pm.

At least two White Storks and two Marsh Harriers were shot dead this week while a picture of a Honey Buzzard with severe shotgun injuries flying over Buskett was released.

The second confirmed killing of the protected White Storks took place late yesterday morning in Mellieha. A man was arrested and he reportedly admitted to the crime.

A hunter from St Julian’s who was arrested last Tuesday for shooting dead a bird of the same species was arraigned on the following day, fined €5,000, received a suspended jail sentence but the police are now seeking an effective jail term.

Increased enforcement and harsher penalties that included a tenfold increase in fines and prison sentences have not deterred illegal hunting.

The recent amendments to the Malta’s bird conservation laws also saw the permanent removal of a 3pm hunting curfew.

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