Strong words & brute manpower not enough to stop illegal killing, says BLM
|Email item||Print item||
BirdLife Malta today welcomed the Government’s commitment to stamp out illegal hunting, but said that it “would take more than strong words and brute manpower to effectively tackle serious abuse, like the killing of protected birds by illegal hunters.”
“The unpalatable truth is that despite claimed increased enforcement, protected birds were still killed in large numbers throughout the island in the last month and the tactics employed by enforcement officers were not effective enough in detecting these crimes and gathering evidence to bring their perpetrators to justice,” said Nicholas Barbara, BirdLife Malta’s Conservation Manager.
He added that “of the 95 officers ‘deployed’ to police the hunting season between the 15th September and 7th October, a maximum of just 21 were recorded actually patrolling in the countryside in any one shift (morning or afternoon). In Gozo, no ALE or AFM patrols were operating on the island at all and CABS report seeing police only when they were responding to incidents reported by CABS teams themselves.”
BLM pointed out atht in Malta, when enforcement officers were observed they were uniformed and highly visible, patrolling in ALE or AFM Landrovers.
“What we are repeatedly seeing each hunting season is that this approach to enforcement is only effective as a deterrent as long as the patrols remain in a location. As soon as they leave the deterrent leaves with them and this approach hugely reduces the likelihood of police actually catching anyone targeting protected species,” said Mr Barbara.
“What is needed is a new, smart approach to catching those hunters who continue to illegally shoot at protected birds. That requires specialist training, equipment and personnel dedicated to detecting and stopping wildlife crime, like the wildlife crime units of other European countries. It’s not enough to just throw numbers at the problem or to leave it up to NGOs to detect and report crimes for the police to respond to,” Mr Barbara stated.
“This view,” he said, “is supported by the fact that a significant proportion of the 40 ‘disclosed offences’ reported by the Government resulted from reports made to police by BirdLife Malta and CABS teams rather than from direct detection by enforcement officers.”
“The Government reported the ‘disclosure’ of only one incident of shooting at a protected bird from the 15th September up until 7th October,” BLM added. “In the same period, BirdLife and CABS teams collectively directly witnessed a total of 111 protected birds being shot at or shot down.”
BLM stated that “it should go without saying that these are just the incidents that have actually been seen. Even so, this gives a disclosure success rate of less than one per cent.”
“Several of these incidents were filmed, including the shooting down of a Black Stork in Buskett despite the presence of police and BirdLife Malta volunteers who had worked together to guard the bird overnight,” said Barbara. “But even in cases where there are eyewitnesses and video evidence of birds being shot down the culprits get away with it more often than not and prosecutions are extremely rare.”
“Other incidents were reported to police but did not result in the ‘disclosure of offences,’ like the shooting down of two Honey Buzzards in Bidni, on the limits of Marsascala, at around 4pm on the afternoon of 16th September,,” said Barbara. “Witnessed by three Raptor Camp volunteers, the suspects then picked up the body of one of the shot birds, changing their clothes and reversing modifications to their guns when they saw the police arrive. Officers interviewed the suspects, but didn’t find the bodies of the two birds and no further action was taken.”
“Like these two Honey Buzzards, the majority of protected birds shot at or shot down were targeted in the afternoon. Between the 15th and 30th September, Raptor Camp volunteers alone saw 30 protected birds (most of them birds of prey) being shot at or shot down between the hours of 3pm and 7pm- hours previously covered by a curfew put in place specifically to protect migrating birds of prey as they come into roost,” BLM said.
“While this situation exists the Government cannot continue to bury its head in the sand. The reality is that the 3pm curfew was the most effective measure yet found to prevent protected birds of prey from being killed by illegal hunters.
“Its removal this year has proved disastrous for these birds and if the government is genuine in its commitment to stopping illegal hunting, it will commit itself to reinstate the 3pm curfew next year, while keeping the extension of the curfew into the first week of October.” Barbara concluded.
BLM file photograph by David Tipling/Nature Picture Library.