Pallid Harriers amongst rare birds shot in Malta
International volunteers arrive for spring conservation camp as spring hunting derogation claims first victims
April 2013. BirdLife Malta has recovered a Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus), one of Europe’s most threatened birds of prey, which was found with shotgun wounds by a member of the public in Gozo.
This is the second Pallid Harrier known to have been shot in the Maltese Islands in little more than half a year. In September last year, a juvenile male was recovered, again in Gozo. The young bird, making only its third journey between Europe and Africa, which was not seriously injured, was sent to the Centro Recupero Fauna Selvatica, a wildlife rehabilitation centre in Sicily. There are estimated to be as few as 310 breeding pairs of Pallid Harriers left in Europe, where it is undergoing steep population decline since the 1970s.
“When you consider the small numbers of the bird left in Europe, the impact of having even two individuals shot on their migration could be catastrophic.”
Other protected birds that have been shot in the first few days include a European Bee-eater, a kestrel and a Common Cuckoo.
Spring Watch, BirdLife Malta’s annual spring conservation camp has got underway with 40 international volunteers joining local conservationists to help monitor spring bird migration, and deter and report illegal hunting during Malta’s spring hunting derogation period. The camp starts on the 4th day of the season and participants will operate in teams at locations around Malta and Gozo until the end of the season on the 30th April.
“The hunting season opened a full two days earlier this year and Spring Watch volunteers have been sorely missed in these first days,” said Christian Debono, BirdLife Malta‘s Conservation and Policy Officer.
9,500 hunters licensed
This year 9,500 hunters are licensed to shoot Turtle Doves and Quail between 10th and 30th April- an increase of more than 3,000 licenses over last year, following the waiver of the 50 Euro spring hunting license fee, and the removal of armbands, a measure put in place to distinguish between licensed and unlicensed hunters.
As migration of many European birds has started to pick up, protected birds have already fallen victim to illegal hunting and trapping in the first days of the spring hunting season, with reports of electronic quail lures, shots at birds of prey, use of cage traps and use of repeater shotguns already witnessed in the first days of the season.
“We have had to make do with a small number of local staff and volunteers to try to monitor a few locations as best we can, and already we have witnessed hunters shooting at protected birds of prey. Worryingly, the number of police patrols in the countryside also appears to be very small and it is likely that other illegalities are going completely undetected.”
Poaching within reserve
BirdLife recovered a Common Kestrel shot near Victoria, Gozo, while two hunters, one of them wearing a balaclava to hide his face, were photographed poaching within the Foresta 2000 Bird Sanctuary in Mellieha. Police and MEPA enforcement officers responded to the incident, but the two men managed to escape.
Two men were filmed and photographed using illegal cages traps (Trabokki) to trap protected song birds in the valley below the FKNK-managed woodland at Mizieb. This time police attending the scene were able to apprehend the suspects and confiscate the banned cage traps.
“In 2011 and 2012, spring hunting seasons have been marked by an increase in witnessed illegal hunting incidents, correlating with increased numbers of licenses. With migration of many protected European breeding birds still picking up, while at the same time having a record amount of hunters out this spring, we can only fear the worst,” commented BirdLife Malta Conservation Manager, Nicholas Barbara.
“The record number of hunters and relaxed hunting legislation in a period when migrating birds are at their most vulnerable, as they make their way to their breeding grounds, make the work of the Spring Watch volunteers even more valuable,” said Mr Barbara. “We encourage to public to report illegal hunting, and take an active role in ensuring abuses are curtailed.”
BirdLife Malta continues to operate a voluntary scheme to recover injured wild birds. Anyone finding an injured bird can contact the BirdLife office on 21347644-6.
Anyone wishing to participate in the camp can still do so by contacting BirdLife Malta, and anyone witnessing illegalities is urged to report these to the police by calling the Administrative Law Enforcement unit on 22942161-3 or District Police on 21224001 or 119.