A majestic Egyptian Vulture participating in an Italian satellite tracking program disappeared when it arrived in Malta this week and is now feared dead.
The bird was being monitored using a satellite tracking device as part of a project being run by CERM, the Centre for Threatened Raptors in Italy.
Sources told Times of Malta that the police’s Environment Protection Unit had been dispatched to Dingli to search for the bird after they received a tip-off that it had vanished from the satellite tracking system.
The search began on Tuesday night along the Dingli cliffs and continued on through Wednesday. The bird has not been located is now feared dead, possibly shot down by poachers.
The bird was a juvenile and had travelled to Malta for the first time.
Birdlife confirmed in a statement that the highly-protected Egyptian Vulture had landed in Malta to rest but had its migration cut short over Malta.
"Reports point to the endangered bird having been shot down at Dingli," it said.
The vulture, named ‘Isabel’, is a juvenile born in captivity last June which was on its first migration following its release on August 20. It said that following its arrival in Malta on Tuesday morning, the last signal from its satellite tag was received at 7.44 pm.
Large protected birds have been shot down by abusive hunters in Malta in the past, with eagles, falcons, and even flamingos and stalks all among the victims.
Times of Malta has previously reported on a thriving backmarket industry of taxedermists stuffing illegaly shot birds in Malta.
BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana also set his sights on the illegal taxidermy trade.
He said the shooting of birds was directly linked to shortcomings in the verification process of protected stuffed birds in local collections.
"Protected birds can be shot today, like this vulture, and be in time to be placed in a collection, prior to verification," he said.
BirdLife Malta is insisting that the verification process is restarted at the earliest and insists that no transfers of birds from one owner to another should be allowed unless both owners’declared collections are verified.
The Egyptian Vulture Project (Progetto Capovaccaio), which is run by CERM, puts in place practical conservation measures in an attempt to prevent the loss of the species.
Releasing birds into the wild to re-stock populations and increase the available breeding stock is one of its main aims.
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