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Malta: widespread illegal trapping reported

CABS and Birdlife Malta speak of 'poor enforcement'

Finch trapper collects his birds after being discovered by a CABS teamFinch trapper collects his birds after being discovered by a CABS teamPoor enforcement is allowing many bird trappers to pursue their illegal hobby with impunity, CABS (Committee Against Bird Slaughter) and BirdLife Malta said today. Finches and other songbirds are protected species under Maltese and European law, but despite the legal ban on trapping, the Maltese countryside is currently cluttered with hundreds of illegal clap net installations. Both organisations criticised the lack of police presence in the field and the failure of authorities to properly enforce the law to curb the problem.

In the last 8 days a single CABS and BirdLife Malta surveillance team observed and filmed at least 15 trappers in the act, but reports to the police resulted in only two apprehensions. Strongholds of illegal trapping were located throughout Gozo, Migra L-Ferha, Fomm ir-Rih, Dingli, Ta´Baldu, Hal Far and the Delimara peninsula.

"The situation is as bad as 5 years ago before finch trapping was outlawed as part of Malta's agreement to abide by the Birds' Directive. Trapping and caged finches can be observed nearly everywhere in the countryside. The practice appears to be unhindered by the law, with trappers not fearing prosecution by police", BirdLife Malta´s Conservation Manager Nicholas Barbara said.

ALE officers alerted by the conservationists apprehended just two trappers while more than 13 either managed to escape or had already left the area by the time police arrived. On only one occasion did the police arrive in less than 55 minutes in response to reported trapping activity, with ALE response time averaging more than an hour.

From trapping sites reported to the police, officers confiscated nets from at least 10 trapping sites and removed more than 20 live caged birds, including Serins, Chaffinches, Linnets and Greenfinches.

CABS and BirdLife Malta praised the officers involved in the confiscations but said that the seizure of birds and equipment used in illegal trapping, mandated by law [1], is not being universally enforced.

"Our teams have witnessed at least five instances in which the police either did not remove illegal nets or let the trappers go with un-ringed protected birds and illegally used equipment even when caught red-handed", reports CABS Operations Officer Axel Hirschfeld, "We have asked the Commissioner of Police to explain why the police are failing to enforce the law to its full extent, but as yet no answer has been forthcoming.”

The two NGOs also criticised the absence of ALE patrols at illegal trapping hotspots. "It is evident that the ALE are overwhelmed with our reports of illegal trapping from just one team, thus being unable to respond quickly or to conduct their own, proactive anti-poaching operations. The result is total free pass for illegal trapping to continue unchecked in large parts of the countryside".

A good example of the audacious level of criminal activity of trappers this month was observed at Fomm ir-Rih, where CABS and BirdLife volunteers reported several large clap nets to the ALE on the 14th March. The police later confirmed that they have found and dismantled the installations in the days following the report. However, when the team revisited the area on the following day, illegal trapping sites were still active.

"How can the government claim that they are adequately enforcing wildlife protection laws when this is the situation?", asks Birdlife Malta Conservation and Policy Officer Christian Debono. “All this again raises serious doubts about the authorities’ ability to adequately police the upcoming spring hunting season.”

CABS and Birdlife announced that they will continue to monitor illegal trapping sites until the finch migration season is over. Both NGO´s called on the government to do everything possible to improve enforcement and to ensure that protected songbirds are allowed to pass through Malta and Gozo on their spring migration without falling victim to poaching.