Police & BirdLife Guard Black Storks, but one is still shot dead

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Police & BirdLife Guard Black Storks, but one is still shot deadBirdLife Malta Raptor Camp volunteers and the police guarded roosting rare Black Storks overnight at Buskett Woodland, but despite their coordinated efforts, one has been filmed by BirdLife Malta being shot down by an illegal hunter as it left the area this morning.

Yesterday afternoon six Black Storks were seen arriving in the area to the sound of gunshots at 5pm as they looked for somewhere to roost for the night. One was seen landing in the trees in Buskett below Verdala Palace. The other five birds flew in the direction of Dingli cliffs before being lost to sight. The sound of gunshots was heard coming from the direction in which the birds had flown.

The watching BirdLife Malta Raptor Camp team at Buskett observed several suspicious vehicles in the area around the woodland and alerted the police to the presence of one of the protected birds. Two Raptor Camp volunteers, including Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, worked together with police officers to guard the Black Stork at Buskett overnight.

Ian said, “It is extremely disappointing, but no longer a shock or a surprise to hear that yet another rare bird has died at the hands of a shotgun-wielding criminal in Malta. As we guarded this bird overnight, an appalling necessity in itself, we were concerned that as soon as the bird took flight, it would be vulnerable. It is an absolute disgrace that species in which considerable conservation resources and effort are put elsewhere in Europe continue to be slaughtered in Malta’s skies in the 21st century.”

In the morning, the single bird was observed leaving the trees at 6.30am and joined a second Black Stork which had appeared, presumably having roosted nearby. A Raptor Camp team were filming the two Black Storks circling over the protected Bird Sanctuary when the incident took place and recorded the moment when a hunter shot at one of the birds from the trees below. The bird was visibly hit and dropped down into the valley as the volunteers watched.

A local birdwatcher was first to reach the shot stork, but found it already dead.

Another three Black Storks were seen at Santa Katerina circling to gain height and then flying off to the north. Of the six Black Storks seen yesterday evening only five were accounted for today, including the one shot at Buskett.

Steve Micklewright, BirdLife Malta’s Executive Director said, “The FKNK repeatedly state that they are doing everything in their power to stop this kind of incident from happening, but we see very little evidence that these words are being backed up by real action to stop illegal hunting.”

Steve added, “The FKNK’s use of the media to condemn illegal acts after they have happened is no substitute for reporting illegal hunters to police and providing evidence that enables them to be convicted.”

Black Storks are relatively rare migrants through the Maltese Islands, with normally only a handful seen each year. They are also highly prized as trophies by illegal hunters and stuffed specimens can fetch several thousand Euros from collectors on the black market.

BirdLife reminded anyone witnessing illegal hunting that they should call the police on 112 or the ALE on 2294 2161 / 62 / 63 or District Police on 119.

A summary of what is legal and what is illegal during this year’s autumn hunting is available on BirdLife Malta’s website, www.birdlifemalta.org, along with instructions for how to report illegal hunting to the police and what information they will need. Please also tell us about your report.

If you find an injured wild bird, you can call BirdLife Malta on 2134 7644 /46

Anyone interested in volunteering at Raptor Camp can contact the BirdLife Malta office or email raptorcamp@gmail.com.

Video footage shown below is of the six protected Black Storks seen in the vicinity of Buskett yesterday afternoon/evening and footage from this morning of one of the Black Storks being shot down at Buskett. Footage recorded by BirdLife Malta Raptor Camp 2013 teams.

Photograph of Black Storks is by Kim Skelmose.

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