Updated 4.45pm with Birdlife statement

Thousands of turtle dove were illegally shot over the past few days, Birdlife Malta said on Tuesday.

It issued footage showing two hunters shooting and killing turtle dove even though the spring season is only open for quail.

Birdlife said five shot turtle doves were recovered in two days and Miżieb was a 'mecca' of illegalities.
 
In the past days it also received several other shot protected birds including birds of prey, herons, Golden Orioles, Hoopoes and Bee-eaters. 

Birdlife said that on Monday it asked the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) and the Minister for the Environment Aaron Farrugia to provide the numbers of quail declared caught by hunters so far, but no reply was forthcoming.

BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana stated: “It is clear that the government is
in collusion with the hunting lobby to hide these atrocities. The hunting
lobby and its members are feeling they can get away with anything right
now since the prime minister and his Cabinet are bending backwards to
give the lobby all they desire including hunting the vulnerable turtle dove.

"It is opportune to recall that when previous Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
took a stance and stopped spring hunting short due to illegalities in 2015,
we had the lowest year of shot protected birds retrieved. It seems that with
Dr Robert Abela at the helm, this year will be having a record number of
shot protected birds. He should be ashamed.” 

Police catch two suspected poachers

Earlier on Tuesday, the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS)  described how one of its teams had recorded three cases of illegal turtle dove hunting.

It said Administrative Law Enforcement officers were alerted and managed to catch two hunters near Selmun, one with a freshly killed turtle dove hidden in his clothing.

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The two men – together with a minor and another hunter - had been previously filmed by CABS while they fired numerous shots at turtle doves and collecting at least one dead bird.

Both are expected to be charged with hunting a protected species. Video footage showing the group aiming at, killing and collecting turtle doves will be submitted as evidence for the case. 

Just before the incident, the birdwatchers were at Xemxija where members of the public reported shots coming from within the boundaries of the Simar Bird Sanctuary.

A hunter was seen hiding behind a bush and shooting at passing turtle doves within the protected zone where no hunting is allowed, CABS wildlife crime officer Fiona Burrows, who was in charge of the operation, said.

The police were alerted and the responding officers were shown the position of the poacher on Google Earth.

But the man was tipped off, packed his stuff including several dead birds, and ran off, Burrows said.

She added that it was not known if the police had identified the poacher in the meantime.

Just like in the first case, CABS passed on all video evidence to the police.

“Killing protected birds within a bird sanctuary is a very severe offence. We expect the police and WBRU to do their utmost to identify the culprit so he can face trial”, Burrows said.

CABS said its volunteers on Monday afternoon searched a part of the Miżieb woodland, managed by the hunters’ federation. Besides numerous fresh cartridges, an injured turtle dove with typical gunshot injuries was retrieved and later passed on to Birdlife Malta.

CABS teams also witnessed attempts to shoot down turtle doves in Dwejra, San Martin and Wardija.

“The birds were shot at and shot down. There has been a sharp increase in the number of shots fired in the last days, with hundreds heard yesterday and the day before. This comes at the same time when we see the first huge wave of turtle doves arriving here”, CABS press officer Axel Hirschfeld said. 

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