In campaign mode, hunters no longer hit out at CABS for doing their job

Hunters who berated CABS’s ‘publicity stunts’ issue instant condemnation on illegal trapping and poaching

Seized linnets: police are seen removing trapping nets. Photo: CABS
Seized linnets: police are seen removing trapping nets. Photo: CABS

As the crucial date on the future of spring hunting edges closer, hunters like Lino Farrugia of hunting lobby FKNK and Mark Mifsud Bonnici of the St Hubert Hunters (KSU), no longer want to appear inimical to German conservationists CABS.

The Campaign Against Bird Slaughter on Monday revealed a total of 127 active clap netting sites photographed over 30% of the islands using an aerial survey – an increase over last year’s 51 sites, testifying to the increase in lawlessness under the present administration.

When CABS carried out aerial drone flights in the past to monitor illegal hunting, Mark Mifsud Bonnici ‘shot’ down the surveillance method as a “nothing but a publicity stunt”, while Lino Farrugia of the FKNK threatened to report CABS on privacy invasion charges.

Now, following the reports on illegal trapping, both men have “unreservedly” reiterated their condemnation of the illegal activity.

“It is inconceivable that some still persist with flouting the law to the detriment of all law abiding hunters and trappers,” Mifsud Bonnici said, while demanding the “highest penalties” for the poachers. “KSU maintains its full cooperation with the enforcement authorities towards eradicating an undesirable element of Maltese society that consider themselves above the law and lauds all genuine efforts to arrive at this goal.”

On his part, Farrugia condemned the breaches, again saying that this reflected badly on the “thousands” who respect hunting laws. “The FKNK will increase its pressure to fulfil its policy of zero tolerance with whoever may be apprehended and found guilty by the Court of Law.”

Farrugia's claim of zero tolerance has its limits. In 2010 he declared that "the zero tolerance to which FKNK is committed concerns convictions of serious violations of hunting and trapping laws and regulations", in reaction to the arraignment of FKNK member David Briffa on the assault of CABS volunteers.

Trapping invasion

CABS said that nearly all of the sites spotted this spring have also been found active in October, when trapping was allowed by the government. “The derogation for trapping in autumn revived the black market for live songbirds and led to a massive increase in prices which in turn also encouraged illegal trapping in spring,” CABS Wildlife Crime Officer Fiona Burrows said.

She pointed out that the opening of the trapping season last autumn also led to a massive increase in the smuggling of protected finches from Italy with at least 2,093 birds seized by the authorities in only six months.

In the last two weeks CABS teams have been monitoring the sites on the ground. “When we see somebody trapping we gather video evidence and call the police,” Burrows added.

So far the police have been called 11 times resulting in the apprehension of seven poachers and the seizure of seven pairs of clap nets. Several electronic bird callers were also found and confiscated. A total of 18 live birds – Linnets and Greenfinch – were confiscated. The worst areas for illegal trapping were Dingli (20 sites), Birzebugga (11 sites), Fawarra (9 sites), Zurrieq (8 sites), Bahrija (6 sites), Zejtun (5 sites) and Gozo (32 sites).

“The police told us that since autumns open season for finches it is now allowed to possess nets with small mesh size, and possession of ringed finches is also allowed, so confiscation of these items, even if found active in spring, is not always possible,” Burrows said.

This loophole means that since the equipment is still in their possession the trappers have the possibility to continue illegally trapping, CABS said.

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