More than half a million stuffed protected birds are held in Maltese hunters’ collections, official figures show.

And about 75 per cent of licensed hunters have a collection of stuffed protected birds which were shot illegally, according to the figures obtained by Times of Malta.

Hunters declared possessing over 520,000 protected birds in two amnesties they were granted, although law enforcement authorities believe the actual figure is much higher.

In the first amnesty offered in 1997, hunters declared hold-ing close to 240,000 stuffed protected birds.

The next amnesty was granted in 2003, when hunters declared possessing another 282,000.

The birds declared were held in 7,400 collections, meaning about 75 per cent of licensed hunters in Malta has a collection of stuffed protected birds illegally shot.

About 75 per cent of licensed hunters have a collection of stuffed protected birds which were shot illegally

In addition, law enforcement authorities confiscated more than 10,000 protected birds held illegally in hunters’ collections since the last amnesty in 2003. The Natural History Museum holds over 7,000 protected birds confiscated in recent years.

Just this week, the police found some 40 stuffed birds at a Siġġiewi residence. Yet this is far from one of the larger hauls the police have made since 2003.

In November 2013, close to 500 protected birds were seized from a taxidermist.

They included four short-toed eagles that were strongly suspected to have been shot when a flock was massacred the month before, causing public outrage. Another eagle from that flock was discovered soon after they were wiped out, at the Luqa house of 25-year old Allan Farrugia, who had been caught shooting the eagle on October 23. When the police raided his home they found another 75 stuffed protected birds that had never been declared.

Another major haul was made last August after 37-year-old Jason Muscat was caught at the airport attempting to smuggle into the country over 400 protected bird skins from Argentina. At least 120 species are internationally protected by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

The investigation into the case led to the discovery of a stuffed bird collection of about 575 specimens from five continents at Mr Muscat’s home.

Mr Muscat had declared a collection during one of the amnesties but close to half the collection was not registered, leading law enforcement authorities to conclude they had been shot in the following years.

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