Police on horseback will play a role in the bid to end illegal hunting. Photo: Matthew MirabelliPolice on horseback will play a role in the bid to end illegal hunting. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The mounted police will form part of the autumn hunting monitoring team, made of up to 100 officers, in what the Government says is as an “unprecedented” effort to curb illegal bird shooting.

The number of administrative law enforcement police officers was increased from 25 to 44, a spokeswoman for the Parliamentary Secretariat for Animals told Times of Malta.

The Government said last week it would be beefing up enforcement during the hunting season, which started last Sunday, but did not give details.

The spokeswoman said members of the police Administrative Law Enforcement unit would be assisted by the mounted section and district officers. Two officers from the Wild Birds Regulation unit and Armed Forces of Malta personnel would also be deployed to hunting hotspots.

“The precise numbers of officers deployed in the field will be available at a later stage.

Should poaching persist, enforcement measures will be strengthened even further

“However, we envisage no fewer than 80 to 100 enforcement officers directly involved in the surveillance and monitoring of the season,” she said.

The Government also said last week it planned to raise penalties for those caught hunting illegally. The parliamentary secretariat spokeswoman explained yesterday that the new penalties would be “considerably and noticeably harsher”.

“Moreover, there will be changes to the law that will render the application of such penalties much more effective than at present,” she said, adding that changes could come into force by October.

She said it was not possible to implement the reform earlier because the unit that dealt with the changes had only been set up recently. The unit was still in the process of finalising the reform, so further details on the new penalties could not be provided at this stage.

“The Government intends to crack down on illegal poaching using all available means.

“Should poaching persist, enforcement measures will be strengthened even further. This is the only way to go.”

Those who broke the law, she said, were “hardcore criminals that have absolutely nothing to do with the legal hunting fraternity”, she added.

Last month, the Government announced its decision to roll back the hunting curfew from 3pm to 7pm, sparking controversy.

NGOs Birdlife and the Committee Against Bird Slaughter described the move as disgraceful, saying hunters would have the freedom to roam the countryside just as migrating protected birds flew over the island.

The NGOs insisted that the change in curfew would spell the death sentence for protected bird species.

The Government defended the move by pointing out that it had also extended the curfew by a week to cover the first days of October, a crucial period when roosting birds of prey were at their most vulnerable.