An event on Saturday that will see hunters and their dogs kill over 100 quail has sparked outrage among animal activists, who are calling on the Animal Welfare Department (AWD) and Veterinary Regulations Directorate (VRD) to put a stop to the event.

Organised by hunting lobby FKNK, 180 quail will be released as part of a field trial – a competitive event for gun dogs as hunters shoot down the captivity-bred birds while their canine companions are scored on their efforts.

A gun dog is a dog trained to aid the hunter locate and retrieve game.

In a joint statement, Real Animal Rights Foundation (RAR), Animal Liberation Malta and Vuċi għall-Annimali call on AWD and VRD to “intervene immediately and stop this slaughter as it is a clear breach of the Animal Welfare Act”.

The event will see 180 quails released throughout the night and early morning from an undisclosed location in l-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa, the statement said. At 8.30am, quail season will open as “a competition between hunters with their dogs will commence to see who murders the most”.

In the post, they also call on the Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Welfare Alicia Bugeja Said and Animal Rights Minster Anton Refalo to “stop this horrible slaughter” and “immediately intervene and ensure that the Animal Welfare law is abided to”.

Legal loopholes?

However, it is still unclear whether the event breaches the law as while the Animal Welfare Act states that such an event would be considered illegal, the conservation of wild birds regulations, published in 2020 in a legal notice, exempts the hunting of birds raised in captivity for the purpose of training hunting dogs.

“[A]uthorisation to hunt released captive-bred birds for the purpose of training of hunting dogs may be given after an application is submitted to and approved for this purpose by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit,” the notice reads.

Animal Welfare Commissioner Alison Bezzina told Times of Malta that although she tends to avoid commenting on the practice as the Animal Welfare Act excludes the legal hunting of birds, she has contacted the Animal Welfare Ministry to point out the oxymoronic nature of the law.

In her email, she notes that the "wild" qualification for which creatures are protected in the act does not specify species but applies to “any creature that is not bred or adapted to the wild without the intervention of man”.

“Clearly this is not the case for these Quails so much so that should they be lucky enough not to be shot down on the day, it is unlikely that they will be able to survive in the wild.”

“This is nothing but a barbaric act of cruelty!”

Event has all necessary permits: FKNK

BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana told Times of Malta he contacted both VRD and AWD, with both authorities saying the matter “does not fall under their remit,” an answer Sultana suspects has political motives. 

However, FKNK president Lucas Micallef said many NGOs and their “extremist opinion” have gotten it wrong as the hunting lobby has gone through all the relevant authorities and received all the necessary permits.

He also clarified that the competition is not about the number of birds the hunters kill, but rather is a competition judged by an international panel using international standards to assess the gun dogs.

Both the Gozo Ministry and Animal Welfare Ministry have been contacted for comment. They have yet to reply.

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