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Rare birds shot on Easter weekend

One of the rarest birds of prey in Europe was seen struggling to survive gunshot wounds on Sunday, and a hunter in Gozo was filmed shooting at protected birds in broad daylight by the side of a main road, BirdLife said today.

It said that footage of the rare Pallid Harrier (Bagdan Abjad) was taken from the Foresta 2000 site in Mellieha. The bird, an adult male, had extensive shotgun injuries, with shotgun wounds to its wing and a broken, dangling leg. The bird was trying to roost in fields adjacent to Ghadira. It was observed trying to stand in the fields but, being unable to stand on one leg, was forced to continue flying, struggling as it went along.

The Pallid Harrier is considered to be one of the rarest birds of prey in Europe - there are only between five and 51 breeding pairs of Pallid Harrier in the region, excluding Russian populations. It is classified as a Species of Conservation Concern in Europe. It is also listed as Near Threatened under the Global Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

This was the third shot Pallid Harrier recorded since 2007. The conservation organisation received a shot adult male in April 2007 and witnessed another badly injured Pallid Harrier flying over Fomm ir- Rih in May 2008.

Dr Andre Raine, BirdLife Malta's Conservation Manager, said that the death of even one of these extremely rare birds would have significant repercussions on the few remaining breeding pairs in Europe.

"This incident highlights the serious impact that illegal hunting in Malta is having on rare and endangered species."

BirdLife said that in a separate incident on Easter Sunday in Marsalforn valley in Gozo, a young hunter was filmed sneaking up on a flock of Black-winged Stilts (Fras- servjent) that were resting near the main road from Victoria to Marsalforn, while a constant stream of traffic passed behind him. He then fired three shots at the birds, before running back under the road and into a tunnel, disappearing from view.

Black-winged Stilts are wading birds that are classified as a protected species under the Birds Directive, but are regularly targeted by illegal hunters in Malta, the NGO said. Last June BirdLife Malta retrieved a badly shot male from the Ghadira Nature Reserve, where a pair had been courting and were apparently attempting to breed.

"While a constant stream of Easter Sunday traffic passed right behind him, this individual still felt that he could shoot at a protected species without any concern for the law. With incidents like these still being recorded on a regular basis, it is evident that illegal hunting is very far from being under control in Malta," Dr. Raine said.

BirdLife said that while illegal hunting continued unabated, it would be extremely irresponsible of the authorities to consider opening another spring hunting season as this would only work in favour of poachers.

"An open spring hunting season makes it more difficult for the police to control what is being shot when thousands of hunters are permitted to roam the countryside with their shotguns."

The footage may be seen on www.birdlifemalta.org

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