Protected birds have already fallen victim to illegal hunting and trapping in the first days of the spring hunting season, with reports of electronic quail lures, shots at birds of prey, use of cage traps and use of repeater shotguns, BirdLife Malta said today.
Spring Hunting in Malta opened two days early this year to coincide with the migration of thousands of birds crossing the island. Police officer seen here giving chase to fleeing hunter.
“The hunting season opened a full two days earlier this year and Spring Watch volunteers have been sorely missed in these first days,” said Christian Debono, BirdLife Malta’s Conservation and Policy Officer.
As migration of many European birds has started to pick up, protected birds have already fallen victim to illegal hunting and trapping in the first days of the spring hunting season, with reports of electronic quail lures, shots at birds of prey, use of cage traps and use of repeater shotguns already witnessed in the first days of the season.
It said it yesterday recovered a common kestrel shot near Victoria, while two hunters, one of them wearing a balaclava to hide his face, were photographed poaching within the Foresta 2000 Bird Sanctuary in Mellieha. Police and MEPA enforcement officers responded to the incident, but the two men escaped.
This morning two men were filmed and photographed using illegal cage traps to trap protected sing birds in the valley below the FKNK-managed woodland at Mizieb. This police attending the scene apprehended the suspects and confiscated the banned cage traps, it said.
The organisation said that Spring Watch, its annual spring conservation camp, starts tomorrow, with 40 international volunteers joining local conservationists to help monitor spring bird migration and deter and report illegal hunting.
Participants will operate in teams at locations around Malta and Gozo until April 30, when the spring hunting season comes to an end.
BirdLife said that this year, 9,500 hunters are licensed to shoot turtle doves and quail between an increase of more than 3,000 licenses over last year, following the waiver of the 50 euro spring hunting license fee, and the removal of armbands, a measure put in place to distinguish between licensed and unlicensed hunters.
“We have had to make do with a small number of local staff and volunteers to try to monitor a few locations as best we can, and already we have witnessed hunters shooting at protected birds of prey. Worryingly, the number of police patrols in the countryside also appears to be very small and it is likely that other illegalities are going completely undetected.”
In 2011 and 2012, spring hunting seasons were marked by an increase in witnessed illegal hunting incidents, correlating with increased numbers of licenses, BirdLife Malta conservation manager Nicholas Barbara said.
“With migration of many protected European breeding birds still picking up, while at the same time having a record amount of hunters out this spring, we can only fear the worst,” he added.
“The record number of hunters and relaxed hunting legislation in a period when migrating birds are at their most vulnerable, as they make their way to their breeding grounds, make the work of the Spring Watch volunteers even more valuable,” he said.
BirdLife, he said, encouraged the public to report illegal hunting, and take an active role in ensuring abuses are curtailed.”
It continued to operate a voluntary scheme to recover injured wild birds. Anyone finding an injured bird can call 21347644-6.
Anyone wishing to participate in the camp can contact the organisation and anyone witnessing illegalities should report them to the police’s Administrative Law Enforcement unit on 2294 2161-3 or the district police on 2122 4001 or 119.