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Unparalleled slaughter of migrant birds of prey

More than 100 Raptors meet their death within a 24 hour period

Honey Buzzard found shot after a "big day" of migrationHoney Buzzard found shot after a "big day" of migrationConservationists are shocked to the marrow. Despite a massive police deployment and the public presence of numerous bird conservationists from all over Europe and beyond, hundreds of protected bird of prey species were shot by Maltese hunters this morning in the course of only a few hours. Members of the Germany-based Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), which is currently conducting bird migration monitoring operations on Malta with a team of 24 activists, speak of a massacre of unequalled proportions and will demand of the Maltese Government that they put immediate and complete stop to hunting this season.

With a strong oncoming wind over the Mediterranean, more than 1,000 harriers, Honey Buzzards and falcons reached the Maltese islands on Friday afternoon to rest before continuing their journey to Africa. A fateful decision for many of the birds. Near the town of Rabat a CABS team observed hunters opening fire at a group of Marsh Harriers yesterday evening, at least two of which were hit and fell to the ground. Subsequently the team filmed the hunter picking up the birds and taking to his heels. Previously hunters near the Blue Grotto had literally torn a Kestrel to pieces with 6 shots before the very eyes of the CABS observers. Later at 23:00 hrs, at a harrier roost south of Xemxija, team members witnessed a group of hunters firing a number of shots and subsequently searching the area with the use of headlamps and torches. At Buskett Gardens, the most important roost area on the main island, observers recorded the arrival of at least 500 Honey Buzzards, 200 Marsh Harriers, some 90 Hobbys as well as dozens of other birds including Osprey, Kestrel and Lesser Kestrel. Thanks to the presence of numerous police officers and ornithologists the situation remained relatively quiet.

Sadly this proved to be the calm before the storm” commented CABS General Secretary Alexander Heyd. The 38 year old botanist and ornithologist was on duty early this morning, together with 5 colleagues, on the edge of the FKNK game reserve near Mizieb, where some 120 Marsh Harriers had gone to roost the previous evening. “A real shooting match, involving some 40 hunters, began shortly after 5:30 hrs. As soon as a raptor took to the air it was shot at. We counted at least 150 shots and saw at least 6 birds fall to the ground. A further 15 birds were hit but continued their flight.“

Kestrel shot by huntersKestrel shot by huntersAnother team of CABS Bird Guards were deployed to the south of the Fiddien Reservoir where 20-30 Marsh Harriers landed at dusk. Despite the presence of the Bird Guards the following morning, birds leaving the roost came under fire from all sides.

I was amazed at the audacity and brutality with which the flock was almost completely wiped out” reports Bird Guard Shai Agmon. For the 34 year old Israeli conservationist it is the first time on Malta. “This was a completely new and horrifying experience for me and I will be briefing the Israeli news media and my professional colleagues on the unbelievable situation on Malta”.

CABS further reports that two shot and injured Honey Buzzards were delivered to the International Animal Rescue rehabilitation centre, with whom the German conservationists work hand in hand, during the past 18 hours. Their chances of recovery are slight.

These observations are only the tip of the iceberg. We estimate that more than a hundred protected birds, some of them extremely rare species, have been killed yesterday and today” David Conlin, a CABS member from Wales (UK) summarises. Alexander Heyd comments further: “The continuing assertions by the hunting federation FKNK that the poachers are a handful of black sheep have, as far as I am concerned, been empty words all along. Our data lead us to a completely different conclusion, namely that the majority of hunters participate in illegal hunting.” In view of today’s events CABS will demand of the Maltese government that an immediate ban on all hunting be imposed until raptor migration is over.

Thought must also be given to declaring the FKNK wooded game reserve at Mizieb, and other important roost places, as restricted areas for hunters and subsequently designated bird protection areas. A submission to the Environment Ministry, as well as a report on illegal hunting for the Environment Directorate of the European Commission, is currently in preparation and will be sent to addressees shortly.