BirdLife Malta denounces Government proposal to allow amnesty for illegal hunters

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BirdLife director Steve Micklewright addresses journalists outside MEPA’s Hexagon Building. Photo by Ella Beeson

BirdLife Malta in a statement yesterday (15-12-2014) strongly condemned a Government proposal to grant an amnesty to hunters with protected birds in their collection, “effectively seeing them pardoned for past acts of illegal killing.”

The amendment to the Wild Birds Regulations would allow hunters to declare possession of protected stuffed birds without legal consequence, at the cost of a €500 flat fine plus an additional €50 for each bird; they would also be allowed to keep the birds in their collection., BLM said.

“This contrasts with the current fine for possession of protected species which stands at up to €2500 and confiscation of the specimen.”

Holding a press conference outside MEPA’s Hexagon Building in advance of the Ornis Committee meeting where a vote is expected to be held on the issue, Steve Micklewright of BirdLife Malta said, “the collection of stuffed birds is a major driver of illegal hunting. Now, instead of facing the law, hunters will get to pay a smaller fine and keep the bird in their collection. This is no way of stopping illegal hunting; this is a way to make problems worse.”

Commenting on the Government’s stance on illegal hunting, Mr Micklewright said, “the government has previously declared a zero tolerance attitude on illegal hunting, however this proposal demonstrates a complete acceptance.”

A similar amnesty was held in 2003, and before that in 1998, prompting BirdLife to question their effectiveness. “These continuous amnesties send the message to hunters that they can continue to illegally shoot birds such as eagles or flamingos, because the government will pardon you again in a few years time for a small fee. It’s completely unacceptable.” said BirdLife Malta Conservation Manager, Nicholas Barbara. “In the two previous amnesties, over 400,000 stuffed birds were declared.”

BirdLife Malta concluded by saying that it is calling on the Government to act and ensure that the amnesty is not granted.

Updated – Adds government statement – The Maltese Government this morning denied that it will offer an amnesty for stuffed protected birds.

Reacting to a BirdLife press conference held yesterday, that it is proposing an amnesty for illegally stuffed birds, the government said this allegation is a gross misrepresentation of the nature and the context of draft proposals put forward for discussion by the Ornis Committee.

“None of the draft proposals involves an amnesty for illegally stuffed protected birds. The technical proposal which BirdLife quoted out of context concerns penalties for declaration of protected bird specimens held prior to 31st May of 2003, but which were not declared to the authorities during the 2003 registration exercise. Under this proposal, persons voluntarily declaring such specimens to the authorities may be penalized according to the currently applicable levels of fines, in order to regularize their position, and to avoid much higher penalties proposed to be introduced,” the government said.

“The proposal does not involve an amnesty, and would not apply to cases such as the example of an illegally shot stork quoted by Birdlife (Malta) in its statement on Monday evening.”

Its said that none of the preliminary technical proposals constituted an official government position, and this was clearly communicated to the committee, which the government wished to consult.

FKNK EXPLAINS

Earlier, the Hunters’ Federation (FKNK) said today that BirdLife Malta was unethical and disrespectful when it handed confidential government documents to the media before they were discussed in an Ornis Committee meeting.

The federation was referring to a BirdLife press conference where officials from the NGO complained that the government was proposing an amnesty on stuffed birds. (http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20141215/local/birdlife-fumes-as-government-proposes-amnesty-for-possession-of-stuffed-birds.548426 )

This, the FKNK said, was not a finalised document and BirdLife had therefore sought to mislead the public.

The federation said that in an effort to control illegal activities, it had proposed to government to regularise taxidermy.

‘FKNK’s proposals in bringing up the taxidermy issue was to find a way by which to curtail illegal practices by targeting actions in a focused manner and in a pragmatic sequence to obtain results. Any other way can only send the art of taxidermy underground to the detriment of wildlife and that of all legal hunters.’

The FKNK said it never proposed any fine or fee as part of the amnesty but left the issue at government’s discretion.

According to BirdLife, the government is proposing a once only fee of €500 for the registration of stuffed protected birds, and €50 for each bird.

On the proposed increase in fines for hunting of protected birds (reportedly up to €100,000)  the FKNK said it is against such astronomical fines and will not be making any proposals in this respect.

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