The Vittoriosa tradition that involves releasing budgerigars from a tin ball that opens when a fuse burns out will no longer be held following animal welfare concerns.

The decision was taken at the 11th hour by the organisers of the St Lawrence feast that is celebrated tomorrow – with the tin ball tradition taking place today.

Instead, this year, pigeons will be freed from a separate box at the same time as the tin ball opens, said feast organiser Christian Raggio. 

Animal rights activist and blogger Alison Bezzina, who first raised the matter on her Facebook page “I Will Not Go Away,” welcomed the change and said she was glad that the animal welfare authorities had got involved in a timely manner. 

“Releasing pigeons into the chaos could still be cruel so I hope this is done humanely… It’s imperative that the public never turns a blind eye and keeps highlighting cruelty and neglect to the authorities. 

“This is an example of how even one person can make a difference,” she said as she called on the animal welfare authorities to monitor the situation. 

Animal Welfare Commissioner Denis Montebello had said that the intentional releases of pet birds, such as budgies, into a habitat that is unnatural to them “to face an almost inevitable death for a variety of predictable reasons” could be tantamount to animal cruelty.

It’s imperative the public never turns a blind eye

Following concerns raised by Ms Bezzina and questions sent by Times of Malta, discussions were held between the animal welfare authorities and the external festivities committee of the St Lawrence Band Club to find a solution that would somehow maintain this age-old tradition while ensuring the welfare of the birds. 

After weeks of silence, on Wednesday evening the committee held a final meeting and decided not to use the birds, Mr Raggio said.

“The authorities got involved but the final decision was taken by the committee. We want to ensure we do things well and abide by the law. So instead of releasing budgies we will be using pigeons. These are private pigeons that will find their way home,” he said, adding that the committee had adapted the tradition that is believed to date back to the Knights of St John.

Video: Alison Bezzina.

He explained that, on the morning of the eve of the feast (August 9) at about 10.30am, they will be maintaining parts of the tradition: an oval shaped tin ball, called il-ballun, will be placed in the middle of the Vittoriosa square. Inside there will be a papier-mâché statue of St Lawrence as a child, with his mother. 

Minutes before the band arrives, a fuse will be lit and, when the flame reaches the knot, the ball will open. 

This time, however, they will not place budgies inside the ball with the statue. In the past about six budgies used to be placed inside the ball a few minutes before the fuse was lit. 

Instead, a few pigeons will be placed in a separate box that will be opened at the same time as the ball. 

“Some members of the community complained about this and some don’t know as yet. However, we know that on the day people will be watching and we want to abide by the law,” he said.

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