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Talk on birds and humans

Natalino FenechNatalino Fenech

Ornithologist Dr Natalino Fenech will deliver a talk entitled Birds and Humans in the Maltese Islands on April 27 at 6pm at the AZAD Foundation, 224, Republic Street, Valletta.

Man always had some form of relationship with birds. Birds have long been a source of food, provided feathers for various uses, from matresses to pillows, as well as for decorative purposes. Birds’ singing has been enjoyed by man since ancient times. Birds migration has enchanted man and raised various questions and speculation about what happened to birds when they disappear in autumn and return in spring.

Man has named birds according to their shape, size and colours. Man has noticed their particular song and even their smell. Some Maltese proverbs were inspired by birds, and artists and poets have been inspired by these creatures and created metaphors around them. Birds are also mentioned in traditional Maltese singing (għana). Various artists portrayed birds in scenes of natura morta as well as in freestyle paintings. Birds inspired nicknames and names of different localities as well as street names and house names. Birds have been portrayed on coins, stamps and surnames’ coats of arms. Recently we find them also in graffiti, tattoos and other designs.

For hunters, hunting is not only a passtime but a passion. Hunting is not just  a ritual but a kind of religion. In Malta, birds were a source of food which by time became a hobby. The number of hunters swelled between 1970 and 1990. Many became hunters even though their relatives were not. At the same time the passion for stuffed birds increased. By time, hunting for food decreased while stuffing of birds became more popular. Rivalry between environmentalists and hunters increased and at a certain point in time every flying species was in danger. Many birds were killed just to spite the environmentalists.

Nowadays many Maltese hunters have learnt and changed for various reasons. Some realised that hunting was not sustainable anymore and they managed to persuade their friends. Harsh penalties against illegal hunting and trapping also served as a deterrent for abuse. However, there are still problems. The few hunters who abuse are still harming their cause, especially the image of the Maltese hunter.

What can be done to elimanate hunting and trapping illegalities? What is the way forward for the Maltese hunters and trappers to practise their hobby without a negative impact? Why is it that while rampant trapping is allowed in various European and Mediterranean countries, Malta is still at the centre of attention of the European Union and many foreigners?

Dr Fenech has work in ornithology for 40 years. He graduated from the University of Malta and received a PhD from the University of Durham for his study on birds, hunting and trapping in Malta. Fenech has published a number of books on the impact of hunting and trapping on birds. His book A Complete Guide to the Birds of Malta, published in 2010, was judged as one of the best books published at the time by the influential English journal Birdwatch.

This is the sixth talk organised by the foundation’s Azad Academia this academic year. For more information, e-mail azadacademia@gmail.com.

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