Updated 8.08pm with FKNK statement

A hunter is to be prosecuted after he was caught red-handed shooting a protected bird in Miżieb on Tuesday.  

Times of Malta is informed that the hunter was apprehended by members of the police’s Environment Protection Unit on Tuesday afternoon.  

The man is believed to have shot down a honey buzzard, a protected bird of prey. 

The bird, one of a pair seen roosting in the Mellieħa area of Miżieb, was witnessed being shot by a civilian who reported the matter to the authorities.  

Police called to the scene found the man was still hunting in the area. They proceeded to arrest him when they found the shot bird in his car. Pockets of the jacket he was wearing also contained feathers belonging to the dead bird. 

He is expected to be arraigned in court and criminally charged with violating wildlife protection laws.  

Questions sent to the police earlier on Tuesday did not elicit a response. The police's communications unit subsequently issued a statement confirming the arrest. 

The suspect is a 44-year-old who lives in Manikata, the police said. 

FKNK suspends man's licence

Spring hunting season is currently open, although licensed hunters are only permitted to catch quail and must in theory report any catches. Critics note that the number of reported catches each season is extremely low. The season draws to a close this week.   

Management of Miżieb, where the poacher was caught, was handed over to hunting lobby FKNK last year, in a highly controversial move.   

In a statement issued on Tuesday evening, FKNK said that it has suspended the alleged poacher with immediate effect. His hunting licence will be revoked should he be found guilty in court, it added.

"Without FKNK membership, this person cannot obtain or renew their hunting licence, " the lobby group said.  

Honey Buzzard protection

The European Honey Buzzard is listed as a protected species in the EU Birds Directive, meaning the species is subject to special conservation measures and cannot be hunted anywhere in Europe.

Despite this, the birds are often targeted by poachers as they migrate some 6,000 kilometres from their breeding grounds in northern Europe to Africa in the Spring. 

Last month BirdLife said it had been inundated with reports of illegal hunting during the initial days of the controversial spring hunting season. 

Conservationists have long objected to the opening of a spring hunting season for quail as it coincides with the migration of several protected species over Malta.  

Spring hunting is not allowed in the EU but member states can apply an exception, known as a derogation, which has to be justified with Brussels afterwards.

Birdlife: FKNK has lost control of its members

A BirdLife Malta spokesperson said they were not surprised by the incident.

"Illegalities have become more rampant. Miżieb will once again live up to its reputation as the Mecca of Illegalities," they said, adding that hunting lobby FKNK seemed to have "lost control of its members" ever since it took over management of the Mellieħa woodland area last year. 

"Shooting at protected birds has become the norm unfortunately in this country and this is the symptom of the real problem, which is the government bending backwards to please this lobby.  We praise the photographer who witnessed this illegality and reported it to the police. We also thank the EPU within the Police Force for their immediate action," the spokesperson said. 

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