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Four steps to solving illegal hunting

The slaughter of migrating spoonbills, unluckily forced by bad weather to seek rest on Malta, is another dose of the shocking news of illegal hunting that we are so used to hearing from these islands. Of course I condemn it; but more importantly I would like to highlight the four aspects that need to be addressed – by the Maltese people and their representatives – if the problem is ever to be solved.

The situation as it stands is that a sizeable number of illegal hunters (hunter = a person engaged in the pursuit of wild animals or game – OED), organised on criminal lines with sophisticated communications and logistics, blatantly and regularly break the law with little effective action being taken to prevent, apprehend them or adequately punish them for their crimes.

First, the political will to combat this is patently lacking. On the contrary, the eagerness to kowtow to a small minority group by again permitting spring hunting, in clear breach of European bird protection legislation and ultimately at the cost of all Maltese taxpayers, is astounding. Once again Frankenstein’s monster is released into the countryside under the cloak of an official hunting season.

Second, the continued failure of the registered hunting (and self-appointed conservation) associations to take concrete action to effectively control these illegal excesses defies belief. FKNK & Co, conservation means protecting biodiversity and entails a wee bit more than cleaning up the ubiquitous rubbish in selected areas of the Maltese countryside (at the same time ignoring the heaps of cartridges, unsightly and illegal lean-tos, shacks and sheds and other war zone paraphernalia). It is time to get out on the ground and control those elements that have dragged your reputation at home and abroad into the dirt.

Third, law enforcement. Playing Keystone Cops in the wake of Pajero cowboys is not enough and hardly a cost-effective use of highly trained police officers. Adequate manpower resources, using preventive and proactive measures are long overdue. And, during the time it takes for ALE patrols to race down from Valletta to Delimara, what are the local police doing?

The prevention and detection of crime is the task of every police officer.

Fourth, opinion polls, readers’ letters and official complaints to the police demonstrate that the majority of Maltese citizens are opposed to the constant rape of their countryside, wildlife and environment and also want to enjoy these common benefits. You must make yourself heard. Your African neighbours are prepared to risk their lives to topple dictators and defeat injustice; but you still let the bully boys despoil your natural heritage and fail to shake up your lethargic politicians. Yes you can!

Finally, a word to the usual suspects who will inevitably retaliate with the time-worn arguments about “foreign interference”. I, and many other unpaid (and mostly out-of-pocket) volunteers, come twice a year to Malta to do the job of the Maltese in protecting birds. We leave our wives and husbands, partners, children and grandchildren at home for one to two weeks at a time, work up to 16 hours a day in the countryside, and are abused, threatened and assaulted by hunters (yes hunters – see definition above). Unpaid holiday? Pull the other one. We don’t want accolades but spare us the sanctimonious comments.

I will be 68 years of age in a couple of weeks. I have come to Malta at least seven times to protect birds from the poachers’ guns. And I will keep on coming as long as I am physically able to do so. Why? I am a citizen of the EU, accept and respect its laws, and expect my fellow EU citizens to do the same. At home I pay taxes to preserve and protect the environment, including the habitats and lives of the birds that breed in our gardens and countryside. The same birds that are shot down on Malta every year. Here’s the message, loud and clear: “Our breeding birds migrate via your country. Please send them back alive!”

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