A man caught on camera illegally shooting down a protected bird is an official of Malta's hunting lobby, BirdLife Malta claimed on Tuesday.
Footage shot by BirdLife officials on April 16 in Miżieb shows a man pop out of a hunting hide, aim his gun and fire three rounds at a Turtle Dove, sending it crashing to the ground.
The man, BirdLife Malta said, is Lawrence Vella, who sits on the FKNK's Miżieb sub-committee. The sub-committee is responsible for the management of the site.
When contacted, FKNK president Lino Farrugia downplayed Mr Vella's role in the organisation, saying only five individuals within the group could be described as "officials."
Later, the FKNK said BirdLife's claim that one of its officials had shot a Turtle Dove was unfounded.
Mr Farrugia said that the FKNK would take steps against any hunter found to have breached hunting rules, but that it would only do so when it had official confirmation that rules had been broken.
"Whenever we have had court decisions against our members, we have always taken appropriate action," he said. "But we will not do so based on the word of a pressure group or individual."
He did not exclude the possibility of Mr Vella temporarily stepping down from his sub-committee role if the matter reached the courts.
In its statement, BirdLife said it had passed a copy of the footage to the police's Administrative Law Enforcement division.
Spring hunting season, which was opened for quail this year, ended five days after BirdLife say the video was filmed.
Quail are usually found close to the ground, as opposed to Turtle Doves which prefer to fly higher in the sky. Sites like Miżieb tend to attract the latter, due to the several trees which they use to perch on.
BirdLife said that the footage was further evidence that the moratorium on hunting Turtle Dove was "a joke" which hunters deliberately ignored, and challenged FKNK to immediately suspend Mr Vella and help authorities bring him to justice.
The organisation said that it continued to receive illegally shot birds, with 22 handed in to its volunteers over the past month - seven more than in 2017.
Meanwhile, the Wild Birds Regulation Unit, said its inspectors and the police made 5,924 inspections during the spring hunting season, an increase of 2,000 over last year.
The police made 667 inspections on the roads regarding the carriage of weapons. 692 hunters were inspected.
Five night patrols were carried out jointly with CABS and BirdLife Malta. Seven illegal bird callers were found and investigations on their ownership are continuing. A number of illegal decoys were also removed.
A number of persons are due to be taken to court in the coming days.
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