The flamingo that graced Salina’s salt pans on Monday did not even survive one night there because, at the stroke of midnight, a young man waded across the shallow water and shot the sleeping bird dead.

He threw the dead bird under the gate behind the ditch and waited a while

A man from Naxxar and his two cousins were yesterday arrested in connection with the case after a white Mitsubishi Pajero car, used by the alleged poachers to escape, was found abandoned in Burmarrad.

According to the police, traces of flamingo feathers were found in the car. Sources said that in a subsequent house raid, about 20 protected species were found but, until last night, the dead flamingo had still not been traced.

The incident outraged bird lovers and hunters alike.

The hunters’ federation, FKNK, described the shooting as a “criminal act” and urged the courts to take “serious action”.

“This incident comes at a time when FKNK officials were admiring the bird and other officials were on guard in the area...

“These criminal acts have nothing to do with hunting and the legal hunting community abhors such acts,” FKNK said in a statement, adding it would suspend any members who turned out to be the perpetrators.

Police officers from the administrative law enforcement unit and Birdlife Malta representatives had been on constant watch from 9am on Monday when the greater flamingo, Phoenicopterus roseus, was first spotted at the saltpans near St Paul’s Bay.

Throughout the day, the flamingo, believed to be male and about nine years old, attracted several keen birdwatchers and passers-by stopped to admire the rare sight.

At about 8.45pm, the flamingo started squawking and flew away.

After about an hour, Birdlife and ALE officers thought that the bird had continued on its journey and would not be returning, so they left their watch.

At midnight, a gunshot echoed in the bay prompting neighbouring families to run to their terraces.

They witnessed a young man wading across the shallow water holding the bird.

The man, described by witnesses as being in his 20s, was then seen crossing the ditch full of stagnant water and climbing up to the road.

“He threw the dead bird under the gate behind the ditch and waited a while,” witnesses told Times of Malta.

“In the meantime, we saw a white Mitsubishi Pajero driving down and then turning back. It sped to where the man was waiting, crouching in the bushes. The man dragged the flamingo from under the gate and jumped in the car,” they said.

They alerted the police, who were on site within five minutes.

By the morning, white and pink flamingo feathers were still strewn on the pavement and the bloodstained ground.

Ornithologist Natalino Fenech said that probably the flamingo had flown away due to some disturbance.

“Flamingos are easily disturbed but they tend to go back to their original stopping place. They do not normally fly at night,” he said.

He said the visiting flamingo was a non-breeder because he was flying solo and not part of a flock.

At this time of the year, male and female flamingos are usually guarding their nests, so this flamingo did not have a “mate”.

Although this was an adult flamingo, he was still relatively young because the species could live up to 27 years, Dr Fenech said.

It is believed that the poachers could have stuffed the bird and kept it as a trophy for their personal collection. Being a protected species, there is no real market value for illegal, stuffed flamingos.

The legal hunting community abhors such acts- FKNK

Sources said that selling the illegal species would probably not get more than €80 to €100, with the taxidermy procedure costing about €100.

The stuffing process would only take two to three hours but the bird would then need to be kept in certain conditions for a couple of weeks. Unless the bird is stuffed or refrigerated immediately it will start rotting.

As the news spread, a Facebook page was set up with a petition asking for a referendum on hunting and trapping in Malta.

In a matter of hours it had more than 2,000 signatures.

Timesofmalta.com was inundated with more than 600 comments from readers clamouring against the innocent killing – the article was shared by more than 2,000 times. Some questioned the wisdom of advertising the visiting flamingo’s arrival.

“The saltpans are wide open and very visible. We know it has a reputation for being a black spot for illegal hunters. In this case, we felt it would be best to inform the public so that there is more awareness and more people would be standing watch,” Rupert Masefield, of Birdlife, said.

Last autumn, Salina was visited by an adult greater flamingo and three juveniles (its offspring), which probably roosted in the area. At the time, residents reported hearing gunshots in the middle of the night and the four birds were never seen again.

On another occasion, two injured juvenile flamingos that had been shot by a man hunting from the coast at Qawra Point landed in the vicinity of the saltpans, where they died.

Police investigations are ongoing and duty Magistrate Francesco Depasquale appointed experts to help him in his inquiry.

Animal Rights Parliamentary Secretary Roderick Galdes said that whoever carried out these “barbaric acts” would find no refuge in the government’s folds.

Nobody had the right to break the law, he said.

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