Updated - Adds FKNK statement

Birdlife said today that it may consider its membership of a government-appointed board monitoring the spring hunting derogation unless an 'FKNK official' was suspended by the federation. The 'official', Edwin Vella, was taken to court yesterday after allegedly hunting in Mellieha nature reserve.

Birdlife executive director Steve Micklewright said that during the meeting he had called on FKNK to suspend Mr Vella or remove itself from the board, but the federation refused. 

"This makes it very hard to be part of the advisory board. If FKNK do not suspend Edwin Vella then we will consider our participation on the board," he said. 

He also reiterated the society's call for the government to close the Spring hunting season because of the violations which had been reported.

Joseph Buttigieg, PRO of the hunters' federation (FKNK) confirmed that the federation did not plan to suspend Mr Vella. He said Mr Vella was not a senior official of the federation but involved in a district committee.

He said he had been hunting outside the reserve and only entered the reserve to pick up a bird which had been shot.

In a statement later, the FKNK said it would accept no interference into how it disciplined its members. With regard to the three arraignments made so far, it said its disciplinary board would consider the matters once the cases were concluded in the courts.

CABS EVICTS HUNTERS FROM TA' ĊENĊ, FILMS MORE HUNTING ABUSE

Meanwhile, volunteers taking part in a hunting monitoring operation for the German Cabs organisations said today that they had filmed various cases of abuse and handed the evidence to the police.

They also evicted hunters from private land at Ta' Cenc in Gozo at the request of the landowner after complaints from tourists in the nearby hotel.

Cabs said that on Sunday  at about 7 p.m. north of Selmun Palace, a team of volunteers filmed a hunter picking up a freshly-shot Little Egret and subsequently patrolling through the area carrying a shotgun.

“Our video shows close ups of the weapon, Little Egret and the face of the poacher. It should be easy for the police to identify him,” CABS press officer Axel Hirschfeld said.

Yesterday at 6 a.m., in the Fiddien Valley, a Quail trapper was filmed setting his 20 m long net immediately adjacent to the main road. On the appearance of the CABS team he calmly packed his equipment and disappeared before the arrival of the police. The video material shot by the CABS team, which clearly shows the trapper and his equipment,was handed over to the ALE for analysis and investigation.

Another Bird team discovered a shot Red-footed Falcon in a field above Salina. With the permission of the landowner the bird was recovered and taken to a veterinary surgeon for treatment. It is being cared for until it is again fit for release into the wild.

A Common Kestrel shot before the eyes of a CABS team near Qala, Gozo, in the early morning hours was less lucky. The team members, who were distracted by the presence of aggressive hunters attempting to get them to leave, only managed to see the bird being shot and its fall to the ground. The identity of the shooter or the whereabouts of the dead bird were unknown.

Yesterday afternoon, a Cabs team patrolling woodland east of Mellieha, discovered a mist net and a cage trap with more than 20 freshly caught Turtle Doves. The police seized the net and have begun proceedings against unknown persons.

Today, Cabs volunteers witnessed a hunter near Imtahleb shooting at a Montagu’s Harrier that fell to earth. ALE officers managed to secure the rare bird, which was still alive. This bird is also receiving veterinary treatment and will  be released at the end of the hunting season. Again this morning, close to Salina, an attempt to recover a Little Egret with gunshot wounds was unsuccessful. The bird, which is still near the Bird Park, remains under observation by a Cabs team.

“In the past 48 hours our volunteers have registered nine severe contraventions of the law by hunters. The fact that we can only monitor a small part of the islands at any one time means that many more environmental crimes are almost certainly being perpetrated” said Mr Hirschfeld.

Cabs said  the number of cases of illegal trapping and shooting of protected species is twice as high as in the same period last year.

"With this statement the organisation openly challenges statements by the Animal Rights Parliamentary Secretary Roderick Gates, who yesterday claimed that the “assertion of widespread illegalities could not be corroborated so far,“ it said.

TA ĊENĊ EVICTIONS

In Gozo this morning, four teams consisting of volunteers from Cabs and the German Foundation Pro Biodiversity, with the authorisation of the landowner and owner of the five star Ta’ Cenc Hotel & Spa, evicted seven hunters from the private property that, despite signs clearly banning hunting and trapping, were illegally hunting there.

The operation was sparked off by complaints from tourists, who were woken up daily by volleys of gunfire.

“This form of cooperation between a private landowner and an NGO is exemplary and extremely welcome” states Cabs board member David Conlin said. “To say the hunters were surprised is an understatement; but they will have to get used to the fact that arbitrary appropriation of private or public or private land to the detriment of the rest of the public is a thing of the past.”  The action was supported throughout by the Gozo police.

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