Video: Birdlife reveals increased levels of illegal hunting

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BirdLife reveals footage of poachers hiding a Lesser Spotted Eagle they shot in Buskett bird sanctuary

BirdLife Malta revealed that the total number of illegal hunting incidences the organisation’s birdwatchers witnessed between September 1 and October 13 was 111 per cent higher than the same period last year. The total number of shot protected birds it received also increased by 162 per cent. BirdLife disclosed its findings in a press conference held today.

Honey-buzzard found on the 11th of October in Xewkija Gozo with a gunshot to the wing

Honey-buzzard found on the 11th of October in Xewkija Gozo with a gunshot to the wing

On a more positive note, the conservation organisation stated that the number of incidences involving hunters shooting at protected species that BirdLife witnessed during the two week Raptor Camp period in September was lower than that observed during Raptor Camp in 2007. The analysis of the data also showed a dramatic decline in incidences of poachers shooting at protected species as Raptor Camp kicked off and an immediate increase after the conservation camp ended (1). BirdLife Malta said that this figure proved that the strong presence of birdwatchers coupled with police presence in the countryside is an effective deterrent against illegal hunting.

BirdLife stated that since the opening of the hunting season on September 1 until October 13, the organisation’s fieldworkers recorded 626 illegal hunting incidences. For the same period last year, the figure was 297 incidents.

“There is a similar trend if we look at the total number of shot protected species BirdLife received between August 15 and October 13; 55 protected birds in 2008 compared to 21 during the same period in 2007. This represents a 162 per cent increase.” said Joseph Mangion, BirdLife Malta President.

“55 shot protected birds in two months is an extremely high figure and these are only the ones that are delivered to BirdLife. The real figure must be much higher as the chances of a shot bird being brought to our offices are low. The birds we receive have to escape the poacher who shot them and then be found by someone willing to hand them over to us.”

BirdLife also revealed the video footage shown above, showing two poachers hiding a protected Lesser Spotted Eagle that they had just shot inside the Buskett Bird Sanctuary. The video was taken by Raptor Camp volunteers using a digital camera held against a spotting scope, as the team were over 1.5 km away from the incident at the time.

Joseph Mangion said: “These two illegal hunters shot a rare protected bird in a Bird Sanctuary in broad daylight and hid it in bushes at the side of the road. The only reason they got caught was because our Raptor Camp team was not noticed by the poachers as they were very far away. It is impossible for us to be everywhere at the same time and unfortunately these wild life crimes continue to take place in the Maltese Islands on a daily basis.”

Prof. Bernd-Ulrich Meyburg who is the head of NABU’s (BirdLife Germany) raptor protection working group and who works on a conservation project on Lesser Spotted Eagles in Germany, joined the press conference via telephone from Switzerland. Prof Meyburg said: “Our project has been running in Bradenburg since 1992 when it was noted that the Lesser Spotted Eagle population in Germany was decreasing. There are currently less than 100 breeding pairs in Germany and it is particularly disturbing to see these protected birds being gunned down recklessly by the Maltese poachers while we are spending a significant sum of money to protect them in Europe. After the shooting of Sigmar last year (2), it is really upsetting to see another one of these rare eagles being killed in Malta again. These are of course only the cases that we are aware of. We are literally praying that our birds do not fly over Malta.”

BirdLife Malta’s analysis of the past two months showed that the most commonly targeted protected species by the poachers have been European Bee-eater, Marsh Harrier, Honey-Buzzard, Barn Swallow and Black Stork, in that order.

BirdLife explained that Black Storks, like Lesser Spotted Eagles, are rare visitors to the Maltese Islands. The fact that this species was in the top five most commonly targeted protected species, emphasises the fact that poachers will do everything they can to shoot down rare birds. At least three Black Storks were seen shot in just 24 hours when a flock of 12 arrived on September 23. BirdLife explained that on the same day, two Raptor Camp teams led by Maltese volunteers spent the night watching over the area near Dingli Cliffs where the Black Storks had roosted. That night, the teams observed men with shotguns, dogs and torches on the cliffs and spent the whole night guarding the birds until the birds left the roost in the morning.

“Protecting rare species in Malta like security guards is not the real solution. If in Malta we do not take this problem seriously and deal with it through increased fines and stronger law enforcement, we are likely to talk about these incidences over and over again in the future.” said Mangion. “Killing a protected species is a crime and criminals have to be brought to justice and punished by the full force of law. Those hunters who claim to obey the law are also guilty if they turn a blind eye to the crimes that they witness.” concluded Mangion.

NOTES:

1) Please see Raptor Camp Report section 3.1.13 figure 2 for a graph showing the number of incidents before, during and after Raptor Camp 2008.

2) A Lesser Spotted Eagle was recovered on Sunday 23rd September 2007 by a member of the public. The bird was suffering gunshot wounds and on closer examination had a ring identifying it as Sigmar, one of 16 Lesser Spotted Eagle chicks which had been hand reared as part of a German conservation project aimed at halting the species decline. At the time of the shooting Sigmar was 3 months old. Sigmar was transported to Germany as the facilities for the birds rehabilitation were not sufficient in Malta. On the 7th December 2007 the bird had to be put down as a result of an infection in its shattered shin bone.

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