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Joint press release, 23.09.2009

CABS and BirdLife Malta hold press conference

Night Heron found shot in MiziebNight Heron found shot in MiziebMalta - BirdLife Malta and the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), two organisations currently running separate international wild bird protection and observation camps in Malta, today held a joint press conference revealing the widespread extend of illegal hunting as observed by around 100 international and local volunteers taking part in the camps.

The organisations also showed footage of birds of prey being shot by poachers, the extent of the findings at the Mizieb bird “cemetery”, illegal trapping incidents, birds with visible gun shot injuries in flight, as well as verbal and physical abuse and threats the birdwatchers faced over the last week. Footage included the shooting down of a Honey Buzzard in Fawwara, another Honey Buzzard near Bingemma, a third one in Santa Katarina valley and a small Falcon near the Blue Grotto.

BirdLife Malta and CABS stated that illegal hunting has sharply increased from last Friday onwards as large numbers of birds of prey and Herons arrived on migration, with many coming to rest in night roosts in different locations.

CABS teams covering only a small part of Malta (with no teams in Gozo) directly witnessed 10 birds of prey being shot down including two Ospreys, all in different locations. In addition there were 25 more incidents where protected birds of prey were shot at or seen in flight with visible gun shot injuries. There were also numerous incidents of shooting at other protected species such as Bee-eaters, swallows and other small protected migratory birds. CABS also recorded around 200 shots after the 3pm hunting ban, and observed hunters armed with guns in the countryside after the curfew.

BirdLife Malta’s findings were also similar to those of CABS. Raptor Camp volunteers observed 306 illegal activities, most of which were recorded since last Friday. BirdLife volunteers witnessed 34 incidents of protected birds being shot at, injured or killed by poachers. On Tuesday evening two Black Storks, very rare visitors to Malta, were killed as they tried to roost on a tree near Buskett. 220 incidents of shooting after the permitted time, and other illegalities including incidents of hunting in a bird sanctuary and using illegally modified shot guns, were among other offences recorded by Raptor Camp volunteers.

Protected species are still gunned down despite the visible presence of our volunteers. We dread to think what actually takes place when the conservationists or the police are not around; but the recent discovery of over 200 dead protected birds at Mizieb reveals the hidden true face of poaching in Malta.” said Axel Hirschfeld, CABS Press Officer.

On September 20th and 21st, CABS and BirdLife volunteers found 201 dead protected birds concealed under stones and rubbish in the Mizieb woodland. Some of the birds discovered were recently killed while others were the remains of birds killed months earlier. The first bird concealed under a stone was discovered soon after the volunteers from both organisations went in to check on the protected birds observed being shot at in the Mizieb area.

Skeleton of Honey Buzzard in MiziebSkeleton of Honey Buzzard in MiziebMizieb is a show case of the illegal hunting situation in Malta. The dead protected birds were found concealed dotted around a huge area and we were able to search only one third of the Mizieb woodland so far. Nonetheless, the police has neither secured the area nor launched a thorough search of the wildlife crime zone to reveal the true scale of the wild life crimes, which were clearly committed over a long period of time, with some as recent as a couple of days ago.” said Geoffrey Saliba, BirdLife Malta Campaigns Coordinator.

CABS Operations Officer David Conlin, whose 30 year career included experience as a British Army General Staff Officer and Police Chief Superintendent, expressed his disappointment with the failure of the Maltese government to effectively support the Maltese police force in their fight against wildlife crime.

The police do not have sufficient personnel with specialist training and equipment to enable them to make any significant impact on the illegal hunting problem, as recent events have shown. Wildlife crime must be tackled proactively with dedicated resources. Reacting to incidents, as is usually the case on Malta, will never solve the problem in the long term. I see no chance of the situation improving unless adequate numbers of trained personnel are allocated to this task and tactics are changed to suit the problem on the ground.” said Mr. Conlin.

Both organisations criticised the Prime Minister, who is responsible for bird conservation and hunting issues, for his silence on the Mizieb case and stated that the Maltese government was clearly attempting to play down the true scale of illegal hunting at the expense of Europe’s natural common heritage.

Malta’s reputation is being tarnished by criminals who kill the protected birds, not by those who witness these crimes. The hunting lobby’s continuous denial of the scale of illegal hunting, coupled with lack of resources available to the ALE, will only encourage these criminals.” said Tolga Temuge, BirdLife Malta Executive Director.

CABS and BirdLife Malta demanded that the FKNK administration provide details of the number of the Federation’s members who have been expelled from the Federation after being found guilty by the courts for illegal hunting and trapping related crimes since Malta joined the EU.

A.L.E. agents controlling huntersA.L.E. agents controlling huntersBoth organisations also questioned the logic behind FKNK’s linking the recent findings of dead protected birds in Mizieb to the ECJ’s ruling on spring hunting case.

The ECJ clearly found Malta in breach of the community law for allowing spring hunting between 2004 and 2007. Nowhere in the ruling did the ECJ state that so called ‘limited spring hunting’ would be possible. Spring hunting in Malta is over and done with, and neither the government nor the FKNK should raise false hopes among the hunting community. A fresh new infringement of the Birds Directive may next time result in Malta facing hefty fines.” concluded Temuge.

See also our actual videos and our Malta bird camp diary.