Updated 4.55pm - BirdLife reacts to government rebuffal

BirdLife Malta has called on the Prime Minister to suspend the autumn hunting season with immediate effect after two protected black storks were illegally shot dead yesterday. 

The NGO's request was rebuffed within hours by the government, which in a statement issued by the parliamentary secretariat for animal rights said that it would only consider such requests if they were made by its Ornis Committee. 

BirdLife's request came after two black storks (Ċikonja Sewda) were shot while flying over Gozo yesterday. One was instantly killed and picked up by a hunter, while the other made it to Malta and joined three White Storks (Ċikonja Bajda) before succumbing to its injuries. 

The carcass of the second stork was handed to police, while BirdLife officials have handed details of the hunter who recouped the first bird to authorities, the organisation said. 

Another White Stork seen earlier in Gozo also appeared to have been injured, and the NGO said it was also investigating claims that a Honey Buzzard had been shot down over Ħal Far this morning. 

In its original statement, BirdLife argued that "illegal hunting in Malta is yet uncontrolled" and that closing the hunting season until October 15 would give protected birds such as the storks a safe passage as they migrate south.

"This would not be a collective punishment but a method of safeguarding the birds," the organisation argued, saying that if fines did not protect birds, "more drastic measures would be expected." 

In its reply, the government said that fines for hunting contraventions were among Europe's strictest and that the government would only evaluate requests to change the hunting season if they were made by the Ornis Committee. 

The Ornis Committee is tasked with advising the government on matters concerning the conservation of wild birds. 

It is composed of 11 members, with hunting organisations and bird conservation activists having two members each. The committee is currently chaired by Mark Anthony Falzon. 

The government's reaction prompted an angry response from BirdLife, which accused it of lacking "the moral value or strength" to protect birds.

BirdLife argued that the government had not waited for an Ornis Committee recommendation when it had suspended the autumn hunting season in 2014. 

"What has changed from 2014 till now?" BirdLife asked, noting that the law made it clear that the hunting season could be stopped immediately by ministerial edict.   

Hunters condemn killings, BirdLife 'extremism'

Both Kaċċaturi San Ubertu (St Hubert Hunters' Association) and FKNK Hunters' Federation condemned the shootings of any protected species and called on the judiciary to show no mercy with the perpetrators.

KSU pointed out that the same Black Stork was earlier photographed by one of its members while flying over Buskett. 

"Even if no hard evidence is found, if there were witnesses, we expect that they testify so that the person who broke the law is punished," KSU said. 

FKNK and argued that the killing of the two Black Storks was "totally unrelated to hunting". 

Both associations dismissed BirdLife's calls for a suspension of the hunting season, arguing that it was unjust to punish the law-abiding majority for the actions of what FKNK called "a handful of criminals".

" In a democratic society the actions of a few undesirables should never lead to castigating a law-abiding majority," KSU said.

"Our laws and appropriate fines and imprisonment are there to castigate the few remaining people that believe they are above the law. KSU commends the exemplary behavior of the hunting community and augurs that through their intervention those that persist in breaking the law are brought to justice," the association said. 

 The FKNK said it was conducting its own investigation into the Gozo bird shootings, and urged all its members to report any information about them to the police by calling 119, the WBRU by calling 22926401 or FKNK itself on 99474503. 

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