Maltese Hunter fined €2,500, licence suspended for 42 months for shooting cuckoo

The Cuckoo is protected species and is the first recorded casualty of controversial spring hunting season • The Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat,  warns that hunting season will be stopped if there are “flagrant illegalities” • St Hubert Hunters, FKNK condemn shooting

Stefan Micallef, 43, of Naxxar, was arraigned in court over the shooting of a protected cuckoo in Manikata, Wednesday morning. He pleaded guilty to shooting down a cuckoo, telling police he shot it by mistake, thinking it was a turtle dove. Had the protected bird been in Schedule One of protected birds, he would have been liable for a minimum fine of €5,000.

Mr Micallef  was fined the maximum €2,500, had his licence suspended for three and a half years, and his shotgun confiscated. The bird was in the Manikata area just over 24 hours since the beginninog of a controversial spring hunting season in Malta.

The hunter was reported to have attempted to hide the bird, a protected species, but the police located it with the assistance of BirdLife Malta monitors, who supervise the countryside for illegal hunting.

Bob Hook, a BirdLife volunteer, said observers saw the cuckoo flying for 100 metres after it was shot over Manikata and Mizieb. “It went down very rapidly as if it was in in shock. We then heard another shot… we witnessed a guy coming out of the bushes, looking around very furtively, looking for the bird and stashing it in the bushes.

“We went down to the area with the police, and in two minutes we found the freshly killed cuckoo, with a pellet through its eye… It was terrible.”

The hunters’ organisation, Kaccaturi San Ubertu (KSU) said it unreservedly condemned “any such incident and solicit that the appropriate penalties for such illegality be applied.”

“KSU are assisting enforcement thorough their members and other participating hunters. We emphatically state that given the mandate of the majority in a referendum that ultimately permits spring hunting we will not tolerate any abuse. We appeal to all hunters and members of the public to report any illegal hunting activity to the police on telephone number 119.”

The FKNK also expressed its condemnation of the act. In a press statement, the federation said that if the perpetrator was registered with the FKNK, his license would be suspended pending criminal procedures and permanently revoked if found guilty by the courts.

“Following the positive campaign that was welcome by our citizens, with the aim to retain this derogation, the FKNK will not allow any egoistic person to tarnish this situation,” the statement read. In a statement, the Office of the Prime Minister said that if there were “flagrant illegalities the hunting season will be stopped”. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Sunday, after a referendum decided that spring hunting was to stay in Malta, that illegal hunting would not be tolerated.


Cuckoo being shot at by Maltese gun men
From Gowk the Cuckoo by John Miles

Hunters can hunt for 11,000 turtle dove and 5,550 quail with a total bag limit of four birds killed for each hunter. Conservationists say the spring hunting season is only a cover for protected species that are targeted during the open season.

Hunting is permitted between from two hours before sunrise until 2pm during weekdays and until noon during weekends. Hunters can reach a maximum quota of four birds during the season.

Lino Farrugia, chief executive of hunting federation FKNK, admitted on ONE TV that he did not understand what the Prime Minister meant when he warned hunters that they had “one final chance to get it right”.

“Hunting organisations must realise that the situation has changed and they now have one final chance to get it right,” Joseph Muscat said moments after the referendum result was announced, narrowly in favour of retaining the spring hunting season. “When the spring hunting season re-opens, it will not be back to usual for them. Law-abiding hunters are responsible for reporting all cases of law-breaking hunters,” Muscat said.

Farrugia’s public appearances in the Yes to spring hunting campaign were few and far between – it was felt his public speaking would not be an asset to the Yes campaign. However, he has already made two public appearances since the Yes vote. In a press conference on Monday, FKNK president Joe Perici Calascione also said that he could not understand Muscat’s ‘last chance’ warning, but insisted that “this is the moment of truth for hunters, who carry a huge responsibility towards those who voted ‘yes’ to spring hunting.”

On Monday, a day after their victory, FKNK representatives held a meeting with Muscat where, according to Farrugia, they discussed the FKNK’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards law-breaking hunters. “I am sure that genuine hunters will be more wary now,” Farrugia said.

‘Spring hunting in Malta would be banned now, if The Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat hadn’t intervened’ 

Spring Hunting Out campaigners Saviour Balzan and Mark Sultana have publicly criticised Muscat for encouraging Labour voters to vote for spring hunting. Opposition leader Simon Busuttil had also publicly declared his intention to vote Yes. However, Farrugia pointed out that while Muscat and Busuttil had supported the Yes campaign, Archbishop Charles Scicluna and former judge Giovanni Bonello had supported the No campaign.

“The three English-language newspapers, 14 NGOs including the powerful BirdLife Malta, and a political party – Alternattiva Demokratika – were all against us,” Farrugia said.

Speaking on ONE TV in a later programme, MediaToday managing editor Saviour Balzan pinned the blame for the Yes victory on Muscat’s support of the spring hunting lobby.

“If Muscat and other Labour MPs hadn’t intervened, then we would have won the referendum,” Balzan said, adding that the Labour Party representatives had called people up to tell them to vote Yes, and that Labour MPs, band clubs, and mayors had all encouraged people to vote Yes.

“It has been sociologically proven that Labourites are more likely to follow their leader’s beliefs than Nationalists are,” Balzan said. “If Muscat says that he believes in something, a large chunk of Labourites will vote for that something. On the other hand, most Nationalists hadn’t even considered that Simon Busuttil was voting Yes before they themselves voted No.”

He accused Yes camp spokesperson Kathleen Grima, and her campaign, of scaring people into believing that their own hobbies and pastimes would be at risk if the No vote were to win.

“Yes campaigners walked around Marsaxklokk, scaring old fishermen that they wouldn’t be allowed to fish anymore if the No vote were to win,” Balzan said.

He also hit out at Grima’s call to Parliament to discuss a change to Malta’s abrogative referendum laws so as to “safeguard minorities”.

“I respect the defeat, but in all fairness the PN had tried and failed to get Malta into the EU in 1996, but then tried again and succeeded a few years later,” Balzan said. “Now the Yes campaigners want to change the goalposts.”

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