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How bird lovers started spreading their wings

When Anthony D’Andria Hunt became a founding member of the Malta Ornithological Society in 1962, hunting was so widespread that “nearly everything that flew was shot at”.

Back in Malta for a holiday after five decades living in Australia, Mr D’Andria Hunt joined the Birdlife Raptor Camp last week and he is saddened that illegal hunting still goes on.

MOS was a voluntary organisation founded by four Maltese with a passion for wildlife and birds at a time when hunting and trapping were largely unrestricted.

Now known as Birdlife Malta after it merged with Birdlife International, it is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Aged 72, Mr D’Andria Hunt vividly described the uphill task MOS faced in the early days as it campaigned for legal protection for breeding birds and tried to change the public’s attitude towards wildlife by organising guided walks in the countryside.

He remembered an incident in the early 1960s when he was sitting on a wall observing waders at Salina saltpans when a flock of sandpipers arrived.

“Suddenly shots rang out below me and five or six birds were killed,” said Mr D’Andria Hunt.

The hunter did not know a conservationist was sitting above him, so Mr D’Andria Hunt took it upon himself to act as a human scarecrow.

“Every time birds would come into land I’d jump up and down and wave my arms to scare them away,” he said, grinning at the memory of the perplexed hunter who failed to bag any more birds that day.

These days, concerned members of the public often take shot birds to the Birdlife office, but back in the 1960s they would take them to Mr D’Andria Hunt, who would “patch them up” as best he could. Despite having no veterinary training, he once received a wounded whimbrel which he nursed back to health in his back garden’s pond, feeding it the pellets which he normally fed to his chickens.

He also nursed several Cory’s shearwaters back to health, before releasing them at Dingli Cliffs with fellow MOS founder Joseph Attard.

Mr D’Andria Hunt left Malta for Australia in 1964 so he does not believe he can take any credit for the successes of MOS, and later Birdlife, over the years in campaigning on conservation issues.

But he acknowledged that thanks to the efforts of dedicated conservationists, the situation has improved somewhat from the dark days of the 1960s, and he was pleased to see a large flock of bee-eaters heading out to sea without a single shot being fired last week.

“That would have never happened in the old days,” he said.

Still, despite countryside patrols by bird enthusiasts and Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) officers, Birdlife has received about 30 shot protected birds since the autumn hunting season opened on September 1.

In the 1960s most of the population did not care about bird conservation, according to Mr D’Andria Hunt, and even now he thinks little over half the population are concerned about illegal hunting.

“Out of a population of more than 400,000, Birdlife Malta has nearly 3,000 members and some of them are foreigners. There is still a lot of apathy,” he lamented.

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