A peak in observed migration of birds of prey was met with "rampant" illegal hunting across Malta and Gozo on Friday, BirdLife Malta said.

The organisation claimed hunters were taking advantage of a low police presence as several birds were seen being shot illegally, with injured birds being recovered in the evening and members of the public inundating BirdLife with calls reporting shooting.

Three protected species were recovered on Friday: with a dead Hobby recovered by a Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) team from Xlendi, an injured Honey-buzzard found by a hiker in Miżieb, and an injured Common Kestrel from Santa Luċija.

Two other highly-prized species that made a presence included a Black Stork and a Lesser Spotted Eagle, with the latter suspected missing.

Another four illegally shot birds had been retrieved a day earlier, including a Marsh-harrier and a Night-heron recovered by police.

In all, 21 illegally-shot protected birds have been recovered since the start of the autumn hunting season on the September 1.

Low police presence

BirdLife said calls made for assistance to the Environmental Protection Unit  were answered with a single police unit for the whole island of Malta, while Gozo Police informed they had no field units and only district police could attend.

BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana said: “It is unconceivable that during peak migration of birds of prey, police presence on the ground is weak when up to 11,000 hunters are given a licence to hunt during these days. It is not a coincidence that such lack of enforcementis always experienced in the run-up to a general election, with political leaders on both sides remaining silent on this issue, while voicing their appease tothose that break the law.”

CABS spokesperson Axel Hirschfeld also commented on the situation: “The main driver for this illegal hunting remains taxidermy collections which remain unchecked and unverified and which allow yesterday’s perpetrators to continue amassing on the already half a million plus number of protected species housed by hunters in their residences. Over the years we keep seeing no will to remedy this loophole, but rather a call from hunting organisations to continue tweaking legislation and administrative procedures to favour this”.

BirdLife and CABS called on the Police Commissioner to justify the weak presence in the field and appealed for the EPU to up its enforcement effort on both islands in the coming weeks, with a steady migration of protected species is expected.

"Both organisations deplore the melting pot that has led to the current situation with a hunting season open during peak periods when birds of preyare roosting thanks to the removal of the 3pm curfew in 2015, thin enforcement on the ground allowing hunters to kill protected species during such times undetected unless watched over by volunteer teams on the ground, and a complete lack of control on taxidermy collections after the amnesties to hunters granted in 1996 and 2003," the groups said.

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