Six hunters arrested after information from birdwatchers

Six hunters were arrested by the police over the past two weeks following information supplied by participants in a Raptor Camp, BirdLife said today. These included a hunter gunning down a Honey-buzzard at Tal-Virtu and five hunters hunting after the 3 p.m. ban on hunting.

BirdLife said the birdwatchers from eight countries who took part in this year’s Raptor Camp marked the end of their camp with a gathering at Buskett Bird Sanctuary where they urged the authorities to step up efforts to curb illegal hunting. The conservationists held photos of some of the dead or injured birds delivered to BirdLife Malta during the last eight days.

The NGO said it received 17 shot protected birds, including one Grey Heron, five Marsh Harriers, five Honey Buzzards and a Lesser Kestrel . In comparison, during the same period last year, the organisation received five shot protected birds. This represents more than a 300 per cent increase.

In the first 11 days Raptor Camp teams recorded a total of 398 shots after 3 p.m., despite of a ban on hunting during that time. Over this period, Raptor Camp teams also witnessed a further 19 protected birds shot down but not recovered, including two Black Storks - a rare species of conservation concern in Europe.

The use of illegal electronic bird lures, and modified shotguns capable of firing more than the legal number of shots, were also recorded, BirdLife said.

An analysis of data gathered by the Raptor Camp teams is still ongoing and figures resulting from the two-weeks of monitoring will be released in a report in the coming months.

"Illegal hunting reports came from the majority of the locations we have covered during the camp and these locations have been situated all over the island. The situation is evidently getting worse. It's almost as if the poachers are taking revenge on migratory birds for being denied the opportunity for hunting last spring," said Geoffrey Saliba, Campaigns Co-ordinator for BirdLife Malta.

He said that the fact that a shot Marsh Harrier and a Honey-buzzard were found by Raptor Camp participants within the Buskett Bird Sanctuary, highlighted a worrying trend that poachers were now returning to areas where they had been successfully removed in the past.

Anna Giordano, Goldman Prize winner for her efforts to stop illegal hunting in Sicily, joined the camp in Malta this year and expressed her disbelief at what she witnessed: "Malta is like Sicily was in the early 80s. It is unacceptable to witness the widespread killing of protected birds in this day and age," BirdLife reported her as saying.

"The turning point for us in Sicily was when the government stopped seeing this as an argument between two sides but as a national problem. There are international laws protecting these birds and Malta also has the obligation to abide by these laws," Giordano insisted.

Despite the elevated levels of illegal hunting the camp was successful in reducing levels of poaching in areas where teams were operating. On the morning of September 25, Raptor Camp teams watched the safe departure of three Lesser Spotted Eagles that had roosted overnight in Buskett.

On September 26, intelligence gathered by the Raptor Camp teams led to the recovery of six live protected birds from an aviary where they had been kept illegally.

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