Protected birds of prey will be at greater risk of poaching due to the extension of the autumn hunting curfew from 3pm to 7pm, according to ornithologist and former trapper Joe Sultana.

Most raptors migrating south for winter would reach the island by 3pm and between 4pm and 5pm they would be flying within easy shooting range as they looked for roosting grounds, he added.

“It makes no sense to allow hunting at this time. Turtle dove and quail [which can be legally hunted] are mostly seen in the mornings,” said Mr Sultana, a former member and chairman of the Ornis Committee, which advises the Government on hunting and trapping.

The 3pm autumn hunting curfew from September 15-30 had been introduced five years ago by the previous Administration. It was intended to protect birds of prey roosting overnight in Malta during their peak migration season.

Apart from revising the timing, the Government has also announced that the curfew period will be extended till October 7.

When announcing the conditions for the forthcoming autumn hunting season on Tuesday, the Government said the new curfew would “ensure additional protection during the time the roosting birds are most vulnerable”.

Times of Malta tried to speak to the Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Rights, Roderick Galdes, on the phone yesterday but he said questions should be directed to his spokeswoman.

It makes no sense to allow hunting at this time

Questions sent by e-mail to Mr Galdes, who is responsible for hunting regulations, and his spokeswoman, remained unanswered at the time of writing.

The Ornis Committee had voted in favour of retaining a curfew but had been unable to agree on the dates and times. The final decision was taken by Mr Galdes.

When the curfew period is over, the conditions for the autumn hunting season will be the same as last year.

Mark Mifsud Bonnici, secretary of St Hubert’s Hunters, called for an open autumn season and described the extension of the curfew until October 7 as “totally unnecessary”.

“Legal hunters deter poachers. Removing us from the field at certain times makes it easier for the very small minority of poachers to operate,” he said.

Mr Mifsud Bonnici added that he would have to be crazy to hunt in the afternoon in autumn as the temperatures were too high.

Asked whether he was satisfied that the conditions of the autumn season would be adequately enforced, Mr Mifsud Bonnici said: “I have no doubt about that. You can never have total compliance in any sector of society but we have educated certain hunters about what is expected of them.”

Conservation NGO Birdlife said the 3pm curfew had proven to be an effective way of protecting birds of prey.

Birdlife added that it had provided clear evidence to the Ornis Committee that many more incidents of shooting at protected species were recorded in the afternoons during the first week of October last year, when the 3pm curfew was not in place, compared to when the curfew was still in place last September.

What has changed and what is allowed?

The dates of the autumn hunting season for turtle dove and quail remain the same as last year: September 15 until January 31.

The restrictive curfew has changed from September 15-30 to September 15 till October 7.

The timing of the curfew has been extended to 7pm till two hours before sunrise. Last year, it was 3pm till two hours before sunrise.

After the curfew period, hunting of turtle dove and quail on land will be allowed from two hours before sunrise until two hours after sunset, between Mondays and Saturdays, and from two hours before sunrise until 1pm on Sundays and public holidays.

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