In many European and North African countries, including Tunisia, the government places big metal baskets on top of high poles, including electricity poles, for storks to make their nests. It is lovely to ride from the capital Tunis to the north on both main and secondary roads, and pass all these nests along the way, and watch the little fledglings grow under the loving care of their parents.
Moreover, storks are faithful to their partners all their lives and the couple return to the same nesting places every year. Just think of the possibility of driving through our roads with our families and allowing our children, as well as ourselves, to enjoy this endearing sight.
And yet, on August 10, three beautiful storks, out of a flight of 18 elegant birds, were shot dead. By August 27 – only 17 days later – the whole flock had been reduced to one lone stork. This, in spite of animal protection organisations and policemen trying their best to protect them from being butchered.
Unfortunately, this is one in a long saga of shooting of birds: herons, flamingos, wild ducks, swans, hawks, all have suffered the sad fate of being halted in their graceful flight, to fall down dead or mortally wounded to the ground. For the first time perhaps, somebody has actually been jailed for this misdeed while awaiting trial.
And yet, the hunters’ lobby remains one of the most feared lobbies by all sides of the House of our Representatives and nobody dares cross them, to the extent that no politician had the guts to really oppose them during the referendum against spring hunting a few years back.
We widen roads rather than improve our public transport system, which remains an unmitigated disaster
In other EU countries, hunters are only allowed to shoot birds that are edible, and only after these have been specifically raised for hunting, and released during the hunting season. Moreover, I believe that the cost of these birds is covered by the price of the hunting licence itself.
In other cases, such as that of boars, the State estimates how many need to be culled, and hunters are allowed to shoot only the number that has been pre-established. We could think of culling a few pigeons in Malta, but of course, that does not interest our hunters at all – too common, not rare enough.
But why does our hunters’ lobby not think of concrete remedies like these, rather than make itself conspicuous by its silence when such dastardly massacres occur? And what about those who are supposed to represent the interests of us all, and not simply those of the strongest, the most vociferous and the corrupt?
The killing of the 17 storks, like the death of flamingos a few years ago that were actually chased out to sea, fills me, and many of my fellow citizens, with great sadness, as well as a sense of helplessness.
It is the same helplessness I feel when I see our countryside being ravaged, our trees ‘transplanted’ (given the way this was done in Castille Square, this should read: doomed to certain death). We widen roads rather than improve our public transport system – which remains an unmitigated disaster, in spite of the anti-Arriva campaign that was conducted by the Labour Party before it came to power in 2013.
And are we soon to intone yet another requiem – that of Dwejra – which, may I remind our politicians is a Natura 2000 site, in other words, a site that they are committed to protect? Is this rumour circulating in social media true, that a hotel is going to be built in what is currently an old quarry on the way to Dwejra? If yes, what are our politicians doing to ensure that this does not happen?
Or are we, again, to be dealt the unacceptable excuse – or rather, the shameless lie – that this will actually improve and enhance our natural surroundings? When will our politicians, irrespective of party or colour, put a stop to the current abuses at Dwejra and elsewhere, which all too often continue unabated due to political protection?
When may we finally truly believe that we may still retain some vestige of countryside and wildlife? Or are the people in power, and the rich people who are projecting and carrying out these environmental and aesthetic atrocities, so busy filling their pockets that they are dead set to continue to uglify Malta and Gozo?
While these speculators and the political cronies who back them have the money to shoot off to more beautiful places whenever they feel like, the rest of us have to make do with impossible traffic, spoilt countryside, and butchered birds that should be flying free.
Vicki Ann Cremona is a University professor.