Malta – Extending Autumn hunting curfew will save more birds of prey

BirdLife Malta have said this week that extending the two-week afternoon hunting curfew in autumn would be one of the surest ways to save more birds of prey from illegal hunting.

The curfew in question prohibits hunting after 3pm during the peak period for raptor (bird of prey) migration- between the 15th and 30th September- and was introduced five years ago to prevent illegal hunters from using the cover of the open hunting season to target protected birds of prey as they search for roosting sites in the afternoon.

During a recent meeting of the Ornis Committee, which advises the government on bird conservation and hunting and trapping issues, BirdLife proposed an extension of the existing curfew by one week to cover the first week of October, citing evidence of increased illegal hunting of birds of prey in the afternoon during this period last year.

Explaining the need for an extension of the curfew, Nicholas Barbara, BirdLife Malta’s Conservation Manager, said, “many birds of prey and other protected birds are still migrating in the first week of October, but they are not protected by the current curfew. Extending the curfew to cover this period would go a long way to better protecting these birds in practice, not just on paper.”

Last autumn, BirdLife Malta and CABS each separately and independently recorded a threefold increase in the targeting of protected birds during the afternoon period following the lifting of the afternoon curfew on 1st October, when compared with the preceding two weeks, during which the curfew was in place.

The Ornis Committee voted down proposals by the FKNK (Federation of Hunters, Trappers and Conservationists) to remove the afternoon curfew altogether- a proposal BirdLife Malta said belied the hunting organisation’s public concern over the problem of illegal hunting, betraying their self-interested lack of concern for the considerations of wildlife protection and conservation.

The Committee did not reach consensus on other proposals put forward on the timing of the curfew, including a proposal to have the curfew pushed back to as late as 7pm. 

“In practice, pushing the curfew back to 7pm from 3pm would be the same as removing it altogether, something the Ornis Committee already voted against,” said Mr Barbara, pointing out that the vast majority of migrating raptors would already have roosted well before sunset and a curfew introduced at this time would do nothing to protect them.

Mr Barbara expressed serious concerns about suggestions by a government representative at the Ornis meeting that increased enforcement could make up for the removal of the curfew: “Despite efforts at curtailing abuse, birds of prey are still the most targeted group of protected birds in Malta, sought after primarily for taxidermy. Increased enforcement would be best used as a measure on top of the afternoon curfew, not instead of it, giving police in the countryside a much better chance of identifying and apprehending those illegal hunters determined on shooting protected birds.”

Commenting on the proposals to Ornis, BirdLife’s Executive Directive, Steve Micklewright, said, “Removing or pushing back the time of the afternoon curfew would be tantamount to saying ‘we are happy for more protected birds to be shot and killed by illegal hunters’. Well, we are not happy with that prospect. By extending the existing 3pm curfew into the first week of October the government would be ensuring the increased survival of protected birds on their migration through these islands by denying illegal hunters the cover of the open season.”

“The onus is now on the government to take a decision that reflects their zero-tolerance policy towards wildlife crime”, said Mr Micklewright.

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