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CABS Autumn Bird Protection Camp on Malta and Gozo 14.9 to 6.10.2012

Final Report

Introduction and Background

Many bird species such as Hoopoe, Golden Oriole, Honey Buzzard, Harriers, Lesser Spotted Eagle and Hobby are on the Red List of endangered breeding bird species in Germany and other EU member states, and extensive and costly conservation measures efforts are implemented to protect them in these countries. One of the reasons for the decline of many bird species is their loss on the migration routes, in the Mediterranean area for instance, where the shooting down or trapping of birds on passage is a widespread phenomenon. One of the hotspots for the illegal hunting of birds of prey and other endangered species is the Maltese Archipelago. Their central location on the central European flyway make Malta and Gozo important stopover and rest areas for numerous European migrant birds. Until now more than 380 different species have been recorded on the islands, of which only 22 are breeding birds. Illegal hunting of protected bird species, in particular the shooting of birds of prey and the trapping of waders and song birds, have a long tradition on Malta, and the practices are still widespread today.

Aim and Tasks

Every spring and autumn the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) organises so-called bird protection camps on Malta in order to protect the migrant birds on their passage over the islands, in particularly birds of prey. The main task of the camp participants is the monitoring and guarding of important roost sites during the evening fly in and the birds departure the following morning. In addition to the prevention of the shooting down of the birds, through the visible presence of observation teams equipped with video cameras and spotting scopes, the aim of the camp is also to record as accurately as possible all cases of poaching. The data thus collected during the patrols, as well as the video films and photographs, are intended to:

  1. help in identifying poachers and bring them to justice,
  2. identify areas particularly affected by poaching, such as roost sites, and develop better countermeasures for their protection,
  3. create public and political pressure for more effective combating of poaching by the Maltese authorities, and
  4. to demonstrate clearly to as wide an audience as possible that the message repeatedly broadcast by the Maltese hunting community - that poaching incidents are only few and far between - is hypocritical misinformation.

Methods and Period of Operations Autumn 2012

A dead male Red Kite together with a rat and a rabbit, deposited on 20 September at a CABS observation post on the DwejraA dead male Red Kite together with a rat and a rabbit, deposited on 20 September at a CABS observation post on the Dwejra This year’s autumn camp, which took place from 14 September to 6 October, was nicknamed Operation Honey Buzzard. During the 22 days of the camp between three and six teams were deployed on each shift on the main island, on average four teams daily. During the 17 days of operations on Gozo between one and three teams were active each day. Each team consisted of two to three volunteers, care being taken to ensure that an experienced ornithologist as well as someone with local knowledge (in some cases a Maltese or Gozitan) was part of each team. A total of 32 volunteers, from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Poland, Romania, the UK and the U.S.A. participated in the operations. Travel, accommodation and car rental costs were financed through donations to CABS. Operations by the teams stationed on Gozo were made possible by a generous donation by the German/Swiss Foundation Pro Biodiversity (Stiftung Pro Artenvielfalt - SPA) , which also sent a team of three for the first week. Patrols were deployed daily from 5.30 to about 9.30 am (in order to guard the departure of the birds from their night roosts to the coast) and from 3.00 pm until after dusk (to protect the incoming bird flocks and to identify which night roosts were occupied). On each shift at least one team had the additional task of locating illegal wader, song bird or Quail trapping sites. Other contraventions of the hunting and nature protection laws that were required to be recorded by the teams included the use of semi-automatic weapons capable of firing more than three shots in succession, the operation of electronic decoy devices, and breaking of the 3.00 pm afternoon hunting curfew imposed by the Maltese government in the period 15 to 30 September.

Results

Table 1: shots observed at protected bird species in autumn 2012
A total of 34 incidents with 34 individuals killed (8 species)

Date Time Location Species Comments
15.09. 06:45 Safi Bee-eater shots at a flock - 1 bird shot down
16.09. 07:59 Safi Marsh Harrier 10 shots at one bird
18.09. 17:14 Dwejra-Lines Marsh Harrier 1 bird shot down
18.09. 19:22 Safi Honey Buzzard 1 bird shot down
19.09. 06:32 Safi Honey Buzzard 1 bird shot down
20.09. 07:07 Sarraflu (Gozo) Honey Buzzard 1 bird shot down
20.09. 07:39 Dwejra Lines Kuhreiher 1 bird shot down
20.09. 08:15 Dwejra Lines Honey Buzzard 1 bird shot down
20.09. morning Xrobb l-Ghagin Honey Buzzard 1 bird shot down
20.09. morning San Blas Valley (Gozo) Honey Buzzard 1 bird shot down
21.09. 07:12 Safi Honey Buzzard 1 bird shot down
21.09. 07:25 Safi Honey Buzzard 1 bird shot down
22.09. 07:02 Ghar Lapsi/Fawwara Honey Buzzard 1 bird shot down
22.09. 6:30 - 8:30 Safi Grey Heron 1 bird shot down
22.09. 6:30 - 8:30 Safi Spanish Sparrow 1 bird shot down
22.09. 6:30 - 8:30 Safi Honey Buzzard 1 bird shot down
22.09. 6:30 - 8:30 Safi Honey Buzzard 1 bird shot down
23.09. 18:04 Fiddien Honey Buzzard 1 bird shot down
23.09. 6:00 - 8:20 Safi Honey Buzzard 1 bird shot down
23.09. 6:00 - 8:20 Safi Honey Buzzard 1 bird shot down
23.09. 6:00 - 8:20 Safi Marsh Harrier 1 bird shot down
23.09. 6:00 - 8:20 Safi Common Kestrel 1 bird shot down
23.09. evening Salib tal-Gholja Honey Buzzard 1 bird shot down
01.10 17:35 Safi Lesser Kestrel 1 bird shot down
01.10 17:58 Safi Common Kestrel 1 bird shot down
01.10 18:20 Safi Common Kestrel 1 bird shot down
01.10 18:25 Safi Common Kestrel 1 bird shot down
01.10 18:44 Safi Common Kestrel 1 bird shot down
04.10 18:35 Mtahleb Marsh Harrier 1bird shot down
04.10 18:50 Dingli Honey Buzzard 1 bird shot down
05.10 16:25 Dingli Cliffs Marsh Harrier 1 bird shot down
05.10 17:25 Laferla Cross Honey Buzzard 1 bird shot down
05.10 17:30 Laferla Cross Honey Buzzard 1 bird shot down
06.10 07:57 Safi Unb. Greifvogel 1 bird shot down

Table 2: shots at or hits on protected species:
31 incidents (6 species)

Date Time Location Species Comments
15.09. 06:25 Safi Falcon ssp. 3 shots at 1 bird
16.09. 07:16 Safi Osprey 2 shots at an Osprey, filmed
18.09. 19:07 Safi Marsh Harrier 2 shots at 1 bird
18.09. 19:45 Safi Honey Buzzard 8 shots at high-flying bird
18.09. 17:02 - 17:10 Dwejra Lines Broadwing s 8 shots at a flock
20.09. 06:28 Dwejra Lines Marsh Harrier 1 shot at one bird, injured
20.09. 08:16 Dwejra Lines Honey Buzzard 2 shots, bird hit, filmed
21.09. 07:05 Gharb (Gozo) Honey Buzzard 2 shots at 1 bird
21.09. 07:31 Safi Baumfalke 1 shot at 1 bird, missed
21.09. 07:50 Dwejra Lines Common Kestrel 2 shots at 1 bird!
21.09. 18:58 Safi Baumfalke 1 shot at 1 bird
21.09. 19:04 Safi Baumfalke 2 shots at 1 bird
21.09. 19:07 - 19:24 Safi Baumfalke 10 shots at night roost
22.09. 12:30 Qala (Gozo) Osprey 2 shots at 1 bird
22.09. 19:15 Safi Osprey 4+ shots at bird
22.09. 06:30 - 8:30 Safi Common Kestrel 11 shot at 1 bird
23.09. 06:28 Fiddien Honey Buzzard 1 shot at 1 bird
23.09. 06:00 - 8:24 Safi Common Kestrel 1 shot at 1 bird
25.09. 06:50 Ghar Lapsi Honey Buzzard 1 shot at 1 bird
25.09. 18:00 Nadur Honey Buzzard 2 shots at 1 bird
30.09. 06:46 Safi Common Kestrel several shots at 1 bird
01.10. 16:50 Bahrija Common Kestrel 1 shot at 1 bird
01.10. 17:49 Safi Falcon spp. 1 shot at 1 bird
01.10. 18:00 Safi Common Kestrel 1 shot at 1 bird
01.10. 18:05 Safi Common Kestrel 1 shot at 1 bird
02.10. 16:56 Dwejra Lines Common Kestrel 1 shot at 1 bird
03.10. 17:00 Freeport Common Kestrel 6 shots at 1 bird, no hits
04.10. 18:45 Dingli Honey Buzzard 6 shots at 1 bird, no hits
05.10. 07:10 Gebel Cantar Sumpfohreule 1 shot at 1 bird, missed
05.10. 07:22 Dingli-Cliffs Honey Buzzard several shots at 1 bird
06.10. 07:35 Safi Common Kestrel 6 shots at 1 bird

Table 3: Finds or observations of birds with gunshot injuries:
14 incidents, 26 individuals (8 species)

Date Time Location Species Comments
16.09. 16:05 Safi Barn Swallow bird with shotgun injuries
20.09. 06:10 Bingemma Fort Marsh Harrier 1 bird found dead at OP, X-ray showed 14 pellets
20.09. 06:40 Dwejra Lines Osprey 1 bird seen with shotgun injuries
20.09. 07:50 Sarraflu (Gozo) Hoopoe 1 bird found with shotgun injuries
21.09. 13:00 - 15:00 Dwejra Lines Bee-eater 13 shot birds
22.09. afternoon Gozo Grey Heron 1 bird found with shotgun injuries to wing
23.09. 07:50 Bingemma Marsh Harrier 1 bird seen with shotgun injuries
23.09. 08:10 Nadur Common Kestrel 1 bird seen with shotgun injuries
26.09. 07:15 Safi Marsh Harrier 1 bird seen with shotgun injuries
26.09. 07:23 Ghar Lapsi Honey Buzzard 1 bird seen with shotgun injuries
27.09. 07:15 Fawwara Honey Buzzard 1 bird seen with shotgun injuries
29.09. 18:12 Mizieb Barn Swallow bird seen with shotgun injuries
03.10. afternoon Mgarr (Gozo) Hobby 1 freshly shot bird found
04.10. 07:45 Laferla Cross Honey Buzzard 1 bird seen with shotgun injuries

Afternoon Hunting Curfew

Grey Heron with shotgun injuries found on 22 September. Photo: Craig RedmondGrey Heron with shotgun injuries found on 22 September. Photo: Craig Redmond As in previous years the Maltese Government imposed an afternoon hunting curfew to protect birds of prey arriving on the archipelago in the afternoon and evening. In effect this meant that shooting was banned on weekdays from 3.00 pm to two hours before sunrise. Our observers registered a total of 227 shots during this afternoon curfew. The majority of these were on days with strong migration (e.g. 18, 19, 22 and 23 September). On days with weak migration (e.g. 24 and 29 September) no shots, or at the most very few, were registered. As a result of the extension of the camp into the first week of October we were able for the first time to collate data on the extent of poaching after the end of the afternoon curfew. The result is revealing. In the period 15 - 30 September (16 days) our teams registered a total of 12 shootings down of or shooting at protected species after 3.00 pm (c.f. Tabs.1 und 2). This represents some 27 % of the total of 44 such incidents observed in this period. In the period 1 to 6 October (6 days) 17 of 21 (some 81 %) similar incidents were recorded in the afternoon or evening. The most probable explanation for this noticeable shift in illegal hunting activity in the afternoon is the fact that, following the end of the curfew, the risk to an individual hunter being caught shooting down a protected bird is markedly less. On the one hand, it was possible after the 1 October for a hunter to roam the countryside after 3.00 pm with a visible weapon, which made it difficult to differentiate between a poacher and a ‘normal’ hunter. On the other hand, the fact that the police reaction time - particularly to reports of birds being shot after 6.00 pm - is as a rule so long, means that many poachers can make their escape with their illegal booty under cover of darkness.

This demonstrates that the abrogation of the afternoon curfew, which the FKNK has been demanding for years although it is explicitly imposed by the government to help prevent the shooting down of birds of prey arriving in the afternoon and evening, would represent a massive retrograde step. In contrast to the wishes of the FKNK, and in light of the data collated in the first week of October, CABS believes that it would make sense to extend the afternoon hunting curfew to cover the whole of September as well as the first two weeks of October.

Other Offences Recorded

Hoopoe with shotgun injuries found on 20. Photo: Craig RedmondHoopoe with shotgun injuries found on 20. Photo: Craig Redmond In addition to the 79 incidents listed in Tabs. 1 - 3 and the 227 shots registered during the afternoon hunting curfew, a total of 28 further offences against hunting legislation were recorded. These included 17 incidents of the operation of electronic decoy devices (16 Quail and one Redshank), seven cases of the use of illegal semi-automatic or semi-automatic weapons, three cases of illegal trapping and one case of possession of large calibre ammunition for shooting down of birds of prey. According to Article 8, in conjunction with Annex IV of the EU Bird Protection Guidelines, the use of electronic bird lures or weapons capable of firing more than three consecutive shots automatically, are considered means with which birds can be caught or killed in large numbers or indiscriminately. These methods are therefore banned throughout the EU.

Find of 13 dead Bee-eaters on the Dwejra Lines

In September 2011 the carcasses of shot and discarded protected birds were found in the fortifications ditch of the Dwejra Lines. As a follow-up to 2011 a new and intensive search of the ditch was made by two CABS teams on 21 September this year. The result was shocking. It soon became clear that in the weeks before the start of our camp poachers had conducted regular target practice on Bee-eaters. During the search, which lasted two hours, a stretch of about 100 m of the 1.5 km long and densely overgrown ditch was made. The corpses of 12 Bee-eaters shot only a few days earlier were found, as well as the skeleton of a bird of the same species. The birds were photographed and handed over to the police who have initiated an investigation into the matter.

Bird Trapping

Seizure of a net by local Gozo police on 23 September acting on a CABS tip-off. Photo: Craig RedmondSeizure of a net by local Gozo police on 23 September acting on a CABS tip-off. Photo: Craig Redmond The decline in detected cases of illegal bird trapping noted in our final report for the 2011 autumn camp was maintained in 2012 (15 cases in autumn 2010, 4 cases in autumn 2011, 3 cases in autumn 2012). Birds targeted on the three sites located this year were waders (Marsascala, 15.9), Chaffinches and Hawfinches (Ghajnsielem/Gozo, 23.9) and Quail (Safi, 3.10). Most trappers have clearly got the message that the risk of being caught during the CABS camp is extremely high. This assessment is confirmed by data from BirdLife Malta that show a sharp increase in cases of illegal finch trapping in October and November 2011 - following the end of CABS operations in September 2011. In July and August 2012, the two months preceding the arrival of the CABS teams this year, numerous active clap nets (most of them for trapping waders) were discovered by members of BirdLife Malta.

In the middle of our camp the Maltese Government suddenly announced (although it had been expected) that Golden Plover and Song Thrush could again be trapped from 20 October 2012 to 10 January 2013. Similar to its reintroduction of spring hunting, Malta intends to exercise its right to issue a derogation from the bird protection guidelines in order to again permit this traditional hunting method under “restrictive conditions”. The total ban on trapping on Malta, achieved after year-long campaigning by the EU and bird conservation organisations, has therefore become the victim of short-term political interests (a general election is imminent on Malta). Quite apart from the fact that the Golden Plover is an endangered species throughout the EU, the previous year shows (in 2011 only Song Thrush trapping was permitted) that many trappers abuse their permits in order to target protected bird species, especially finches.

Aim and TasksGemeinsamer Einsatz mit der A.L.E. auf Gozo

Presentation of bird identification guides and binoculars to the Gozo police. Photo: Craig RedmondPresentation of bird identification guides and binoculars to the Gozo police. Photo: Craig Redmond Over the past years CABS have continually criticised the fact that operations by the ALE on Malta’s sister island Gozo are either very restricted in scope or indeed non-existent (as most recently in spring 2012). This year a dedicated team of four ALE officers, operating in alternate daily shifts of two officers, were deployed on the island for the duration of the CABS camp for the first time. They were complemented by two teams of two officers of the Gozo police - again with the same officers on alternate daily shifts. This combination of personnel continuity and professional and local knowledge made cooperation with our teams much more effective, and with their support several poachers including a finch trapper and a hunter with illegal ammunition were caught red-handed. In addition a Grey Heron, a Hobby and a Hoopoe - all with unmistakeable gunshot injuries - were recovered from the countryside and, with the assistance of CABS, received veterinary treatment. In order to further improve the effectiveness of the work of the local Gozo police, representatives of CABS and the Foundation Pro Biodiversity handed over two high quality pairs of binoculars and two of the latest Collins bird identification field guides to the Commander of the Gozo police in Victoria police station on 20 September. The field guides and binoculars were sponsored by the Foundation Pro Biodiversity. Foundation Pro Biodiversity

Evaluation and comparison with data from previous years

When evaluating the data collated by the observer teams it must be borne in mind that the totals represent only the tip of a very large iceberg. Dependent on vegetation, other landscape elements, human structures especially the height of the ubiquitous stone walls, as well as the location of the observation point, a single team can effectively monitor an area of one to a maximum of four square kilometres. The shooting down of protected bird species that occur in or over these sample areas will almost certainly be recorded by the teams. In contrast, there is an almost 100 % probability that shootings down in areas where teams are not present will not be recorded at all. Taking an average number of four teams, and a sample area of some three square kilometres, some 12 square kilometres can be monitored daily by our teams. This represents some 4 % of the complete area of the Maltese archipelago (316 square kilometres) and some 5 - 10 % of the area suitable and permitted for hunting. It is therefore obvious that the total number of 334 offences observed and recorded by CABS represent only a fraction of the poaching that actually takes place on Malta and Gozo.

One of the dead Bee-eaters found on the Dwejra Lines on 21 September.One of the dead Bee-eaters found on the Dwejra Lines on 21 September. A comparison with our data from previous years shows that this year significantly more shootings down of and at protected birds were observed and filmed than in all autumn operations since 2007. This also applies, with one exception, for the number of shots registered during the afternoon hunting curfew (the exception is 2009 when a total of 286 shots were registered). Ultimately is not possible to judge whether these data really reflect an increase in poaching, as it is not possible to assess what effect the differing number of days with strong migration has on the data, as well as our ever-increasing familiarity of the methods and hotspots of the poachers over the years. In this connection it must also be mentioned that we naturally deploy our limited resources to such areas where poaching is known to be particularly rife. Examples of this are the localities of Nadur (Malta) and Bingemma and the area around Malta International Airport near Safi where we had an almost permanent presence this autumn. Around Safi alone our teams recorded this autumn more than 34 shootings down or at protected species.

On the other hand in some areas, notably those north of the Victoria Lines, markedly less incidents were recorded than in previous years. An example of this is the Mizieb woodland, where numerous massacres of birds of prey have been witnessed over the past few years, and where in 2009 more than 200 dead birds were found, discarded and hidden under stones and rubbish. In autumn 2012 almost no incidents were recorded there by our observers - despite or because of our regular presence in the area. The hunters have clearly realised that further massacres will further ruin their reputation and endanger Mizieb’s (controversial) status as an FKNK hunting reserve. This was demonstrated clearly on 18 and 19 September 2012 when several dozen harriers, falcons and herons roosted overnight in the woodland and were able to continue migration the following morning without incident. Additionally, on the afternoon of 16 September, a team was deployed to the area to determine whether the remains of any more protected birds had been concealed there. The result was promising. Although the remains of 11 protected birds were discovered, they all consisted of skeletons and dated from before the current hunting season.

Visit by Andrea Zanoni MEP

Andrea  Zanoni MEP is briefed by CABS in therfield.Andrea Zanoni MEP is briefed by CABS in therfield. Andrea Zanoni, Member of the European Parliament, visited our teams in the field on 29 September to get a first-hand impression of our work and the dangers to which birds of prey are exposed on Malta. The first stop on his programme was monitoring of the daily departure of birds of prey from their night roost in Buskett Gardens, where conservationists and police were out in force to ensure that the birds could continue their journey to Africa unscathed. Over a working breakfast the Italian politician was comprehensively briefed on Malta’s importance for migration and the dangers facing migrant birds on the islands. He was particularly shocked by the videos taken by CABS teams showing the most recent illegal shooting down of Honey Buzzards, Marsh Harriers, falcons and herons. After breakfast Zanoni was escorted by a CABS team to Laferla Cross where he met officers of the ALE, the Maltese environmental police unit. Zanoni was clearly impressed by the work of the unit and praised their efforts to combat poaching. At the same time he regretted the lack of political will to increase numbers of ALE personnel in order to enable them to carry out effective policing of all known poaching hotspots. The MEP supported the year-long demands by the Committee for reinforcement of the ALE as well as the creation of a dedicated professional anti-poaching unit.

According to its commander senior inspector Ramon Mercieca, up to 50 officers work for the ALE during the hunting season. After subtracting office workers, technicians and those sick or on leave some 36 officers remain available for field duties. These work in two shifts each of 17-18 men to control hunting across the whole archipelago. On days with strong migration and correspondingly many reports to react to, this is an almost impossible task. On such days the officers are fully overburdened and are often unable to react either promptly - if at all - to all reports of shot birds coming from Birdlife, CABS and other witnesses. The ALE officers have no time or capacity available for additional proactive strategies such as checks of the bird market, night operations to locate and seize electronic lures or undercover operations.

Acknowledgements

In addition to the participants in the bird protection camp, our thanks also go to our partner organisations and the Malta environmental police unit ALE and above all the Foundation Pro Biodiversity for their comprehensive financial and personnel support on Gozo.

Links to Videos, the camp blog and selected press articles:

You can find our camp operational blog with daily reports on incidents and activities at: here »»

A video showing our films of birds being shot down or shot birds found by our volunteers in the first week of the camp: here »»

Our film material from the: Safi falcon massacre

Times of Malta article: "CABS claims 'total anarchy' of bird shooting around Safi"

Times of Malta article: <a target="_blank"href="http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20121001/local/italian-mep-joins-cabs-operation-in-malta.439097">"Italian MEP visits CABS operation in Malta"

Malta Today article: "CABS says afternoon hunting is ‘death sentence’ for raptors" aus Malta Today

Times of Malta article: "German CABS member punched near illegal trapping site" aus der Times of Malta

Malta Independent-Artikcle"Politics, hunting and vote-buying”

Bonn & Berlin, October 2012

Axel Hirschfeld
Komitee gegen den Vogelmord e.V. / Committee Against Bird Slaughter - CABS
An der Ziegelei 8, D-53127 Bonn
Tel.: +49 228 66 55 21 - Fax: +49 228 66 52 80
Email: CABS (at) komitee.de

Final report as download

You can download the final report of the CABS autumn bird protection camp on Malta and Gozo as PDF data here:

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