Exceptional eagle migration leads to more illegal hunting – BirdLife

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Exceptional eagle migration leads to more illegal hunting - BirdLifeAn exceptional eagle migration has lead to more illegal hunting this autumn season, BirdLife Malta said today. Adding that "at least 10 out of circa 60 eagles were targeted illegally."

"An exceptional migration of rare eagles on Malta has ended up with various casualties yesterday evening and earlier this morning in the outskirts of Rabat where most of these birds roosted for the night, BirdLife said in a statement.

An estimated 60 Short-toed Eagles and Booted Eagles sought refuge after crossing over from Sicily, marking this a record migration at this time of year.

The eagles which arrived in distinct flocks, were first sighted over the University of Malta area shortly before 15:00, following which they congregated over the Rabat environs, before settling for the night in Girgenti, Fawwara, Gebel Ciantar, Saqqajja and Xaghra tal-Isqof areas.

BirdLife said that news of the eagle migration expected from Sicily came in the early afternoon with police authorities and the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) being alerted by BirdLife Malta, just before they were sighted.

"The first incidents were witnessed around 15:30 with two eagles being shot at, at Dingli, and another eagle receiving up to eight shots over the Xaghra tal-Isqof area. Later on, at least another two eagles were gunned down in the same area, with all incidents reported for police to act, BLM said.

"Other incidents witnessed during the same evening included a Booted Eagle being shot at over Santa Katarina valley and an eagle shot down near Fawwara. In two of the cases where birds were seen shot down, police conducted searches late into the evening without any known outcome."

BirdLife said that its volunteers and staff from BirdLife scoured the areas around Buskett yesterday afternoon and evening keeping a watch over the likely targets, adding that "police units initially only numbered two cars in the area, despite earlier warnings made by the organisation."

"A similar migration of over 50 rare eagles had ended up with over 15 casualties on the 23rd October 2013, with BirdLife Malta recovering three shot birds at the time, and enforcement units struggling to keep up with the incidents. Government at the time had reacted with doubling fines on illegal hunting as a deterrent."

This morning, a further incident was witnessed by a BirdLife Malta team at Tal-Virtù, who recorded the incident on video, leading police to retrieve the carcass of a Booted Eagle and identify a suspect. Video footage has been passed to the police to help in the case.

Commenting on the incidents of this morning, BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana said, "these illegal hunting incidents over the last two days on protected species is a sad embarrassment for law enforcement, which those persisting in the drive to kill and collect rare species take advantage of. We appeal to the Prime Minister to take this matter seriously and set up a wildlife crime unit with appropriate resources and training."

"Current law on hunting and trapping demands a minimum of seven police officers to be out
patrolling for every 1,000 licences. Yesterday's sudden arrival of this exceptional number of
eagles has found enforcement measures outnumbered and thin on the ground," concluded
Mark Sultana.

BirdLife Malta again appeals to all members of the public to record and report illegal hunting and
trapping incidents by calling 119 or its offices on 21347 646. It also encourages support via
memberships to continue striving for a better protection of our environment.

Booted Eagle recovered from police this morning after the incident witnessed at Tal- Virtù (Photo by Janina Laurent)

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