Tens of protected Marsh-harriers were massacred overnight in the Delimara area, BirdLife said on Tuesday, adding that law enforcement is 'out of control'.

It said a whole roosting flock of the protected birds of prey was decimated in the first hours of the night.

BirdLife monitors spent the night in the Tas-Silġ area of Delimara and witnessed the poaching crimes first-hand, having first spotted hunters watching the birds at around sunset. 

"A few hours after sunset, gunshots were heard and through night-vision optics, the massacre was caught on film," the NGO said in a statement.

The police were called and sometime later a Rapid Intervention Unit (RIU) team – not Environmental Protection Unit (EPU) officers – arrived on the scene.

Officers were "unsure what to do and too late to catch the culprits," BirdLife said.

The teams remained on site all night and at first, light searched the area. They retrieved five Marsh-harriers, four of which were still alive but injured, while one was dead.

Spring hunting season started this week, though hunters are only legally permitted to hunt for quail and turtle dove. 

Taxidermy 'scandal'

BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana said that what had taken place was shocking and unacceptable.

"This massacre is on the hands of those who had given amnesties to hunters who declared over 500,000 protected birds in their taxidermy collections," he said.

Sultana accused the Wild Birds Regulation Unit of having "failed miserably" to control these declared lists, which he said are no longer being vetted. 

"This is a big racket that involves hunters, politicians and enforcement officers," he said, claiming that two family members and well-known taxidermists in Gozo are repeatedly found with carcasses, yet very little can be done due to legal loopholes.

One of those taxidermists faces pending charges but police have claimed they are unable to find him to serve him with court summons, Sultana said, despite the taxidermist seen daily with Gozo (and hunting) minister Clint Camilleri during the electoral campaign. 

BirdLife said Prime Minister Robert Abela should take it on himself to make sure that vetting of the lists of protected species in hunters’ collections commences immediately. Bird experts within the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) should be asked to handle this remit.

Law enforcement also needed to be taken seriously, bearing in mind that Malta is already facing Infringement Proceedings initiated by the European Commission.

FKNK says it will help investigation

In a statement, the FKNK hunters' federation said it will help the authorities investigate the case and ensure that the criminals involved no longer hold a hunting licence.

"The FKNK warns, that it will not stand for anything or anyone that may even dare mar, in any manner, all the good work it carries out on behalf of its thousands of loyal and genuine hunter and trapper members that ensures the enjoyment of our traditional socio-cultural practices, besides the conservation of the natural environment," the federation said. 

Another hunters' group -  Kaċċaturi San Ubertu - said it unreservedly condemned what had happened, but said the absolute majority of hunters were observing the law. It hoped those involved would be identified and taken to court. 

ADPD calls for hunting season to be closed

ADPD said the shooting of the Marsh-harriers did not come as a surpise.

"As in previous migratory seasons, the poaching of protected birds continues as their killers are let off with impunity. The spring hunting season continues to be used as a smoke-screen for gross illegalities."

The hunting season, it said, should be closed immediately. The government could not risk that more protected species were murdered by its inaction.

 

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