Malta: A Christmas gift for the island’s hunters….now avoided.

If I broke into your home and stole your jewellery and your television would you find it acceptable if I was later allowed to walk free, and keep your possessions, after paying a small fine? No, me neither. Yet this is exactly what has been proposed by a Maltese government official for hunters with illegally-shot stuffed birds in their home collection.

The proposed government amnesty would allow hunters to own up to having rare and protected species, pay an ‘administrative fine’ and be pardoned for their crimes while also being allowed to keep the birds which they had illegally killed.

This is not the first amnesty for hunters in Malta; the first was in 1998, followed by another in 2003. Over 500,000 birds were declared, meaning there are more protected birds in private collections across Malta than there are people living on the islands.

Of course, the government has denied proposing such an amnesty but it is really only the use of the word that they object to, preferring to call it a “voluntary declaration of protected bird specimens”. Whatever you wish to label it, the proposal, which was set out in a draft legal notice drawn up by Sergei Golovkin, head of the Wild Birds Regulation Unit, states that people who had not declared their protected species in the 2003 amnesty would be requested to do so now and “after paying an administrative fine… be exempted from liability”.

The cost of this exemption is a mere €500 registration fee and a further €50 fine for each bird declared. By contrast, if someone was actually caught shooting a protected species and taken to court, they could face a €5,000 fine.

This would have meant a 90 per cent reduction, no criminal record and no revocation of hunting licence. This is not zero tolerance on illegal hunting, this is complete acceptance.

Furthermore, how does the WBRU propose to distinguish between an eagle shot prior to 2003, and an eagle shot in 2013? The proposal from the government stated it “would not apply to cases such as the example of an illegally shot stork” without setting out how they would ensure birds illegally shot after 2003 would not be able to be passed off as older specimens.

Birdlife Malta will not give in to bullying. It is about time government officials did the same
The amnesty throughout Malta appears to be the personal initiative of the WBRU head. But a hunters’ federation press release more than hints at behind-closed-doors meetings between Golovkin and the FKNK, stating “against FKNK’s wish, the government has chosen to discuss this confidential document within the Ornis Committee”. So the real question is, how did an idea put forward by the FKNK in what they claim is “another attempt to control illegalities” become an official proposal from the government’s Wild Birds Regulation Unit? This WBRU is the very unit responsible for enforcement of the hunting laws in Malta. However, it seems that they are too compromised by their links with the hunting fraternity to be able to act effectively on these important issues.

If Birdlife had not acted to take the story to the media on Monday afternoon, this proposal would have been voted through and become government policy immediately, without any discussion at a higher level.

This would have completely undermined the government’s position of zero tolerance on illegal hunting, as demonstrated by the Prime Minister himself when he decided to close the autumn hunting season in September.

So who authorised this document and did the minister responsible know? Golovkin appears personally responsible. He knows, as we do, that it is impossible to distinguish between a bird shot in 2003 or 2013 with the resources available. Unless he can prove otherwise, he should surely resign his post.

Indeed, if the minister was unaware of this proposal, Golovkin should be dismissed immediately. I can suggest a number of respected bird conservationists who could easily undertake his duties while the government recruits a replacement.

However, since this is the season of goodwill and Golovkin is a very nice guy, perhaps he is giving in to the bullying tactics of the FKNK.

It cannot be pleasant to be subjected to the sort of remarks that are regularly made by them. For example, the FKNK press release in reaction to our protest contained a thinly veiled threat towards Birdlife Malta, warning that “confrontation… would be an easier option for the FKNK”.

I have news for FKNK?CEO Lino Farrugia, which he must surely know already. That is that Birdlife Malta will not give in to bullying.

It is about time government officials did the same.

Steve Micklewright is executive director of Birdlife Malta.

1 comment to Malta: A Christmas gift for the island’s hunters….now avoided.

  • Bird tourist

    It has always seemed to me that the best way to tackle this problem is through ecomnomics… If the general public were to stop going to Malta for holidays the goverment would have to do something about the problem. Just like South Afirca was boycotted I feed sure the samething would work here…