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Where is the red line? - Daryl Grima

Last weekend two beautiful Flamingos were shot, and just afterwards, another four protected birds were also confirmed shot. Another hunting season is under way, and predictably, with it the uncontrolled killing of protected birds.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, with most shot birds retrieved by hunters or dying in inaccessible and unnoticeable places. It is obvious that hunting illegalities are rampant.

This is what happens when the State closes two blind eyes towards indiscriminate hunting, when enforcement is totally inadequate, when promises that illegality will be rewarded with lower penalties are made, when a hunting season is opened without the Ornis Committee in place, thus sending the wrong message, and when after 13 protected birds are shot the only thing the government can do is issue an apologetic one-sentence statement...

I am the first to applaud the government when it makes the right choices, such as the pledge to have only vehicles running on electricity and alternative fuels. It is also good that the government has finally recognised that we have a waste problem that we have done little about and need to tackle, even though the (already decided) solutions need to be discussed. I am pleased that the government will hand over the management of the Salina Nature Reserve (a Natura 2000 site) to Birdlife Malta later this year.

These might be indicators that the new Labour government has decided to be greener this time round (even though it didn’t set the bar too high in the first term).

A greener government would be truly welcomed. What is the use of having economic prosperity if it does not result in a better quality of life and environment?

Is it 10 protected birds shot down, 20, 50, or even a hundred? Can we know how many?

The Prime Minister should remember that unlike the two national elections where he cruised comfortably to victory, the same party machine that won so resoundingly in the general election only managed to muscle a meagre 2,000-vote lead against a bunch of ill-prepared environmentalists. It’s clear that we have a lot of Labour voters that support our cause; the same growing base of supporters that are aghast when they see the images of the two shot flamingos. The same people still remember that the Prime Minister took the bold decision to stop the hunting season. Unfortunately, a lot of blood has been spilt since that day.

We accept that the Labour government may be supportive of the hunting and trapping cause, privately, publicly and practically (in Cabinet), but a government can never be supportive of illegality. The government is obliged to see to it that the rule of law is applied, and if it is not able to adequately enforce the law, then the hunting season should be closed, irrespective of the government’s flirtatious relationship with the hunting lobby.

Realistically speaking, the penalties currently in place that should have protected the two flamingos shot down last weekend (and all the other protected birds these past couple of weeks) are clearly not serving as a deterrent. Why? Could it possibly be that hunters know or believe that the law enforcers have been told to be too busy?

It does not take a genius to grasp that the current system is playing to the advantage of those who want to gun down protected birds with impunity. Birdlife Malta has been calling for the establishment of a Wildlife Crime Unit within the police force for quite some time now. This would be the first step towards controlling the rampant illegalities taking place in the countryside.

The first reform on hunting and trapping that should be discussed at Cabinet level should not be the lowering of the hunting and trapping fines but the strengthening of enforcement. A Wildlife Crime Unit with enough resources and the right leadership should be set up.

On the other hand, the combo effect of reducing the fines and leaving so-called enforcement at the current level basically declares a free-for-all hunting season.

The question is what is the red line? Is it 10 protected birds shot down, 20, 50, or even a hundred? Can we know how many? Is there a red line?

For us, every single bird should be saved. This year Birdlife Malta is back out in the countryside monitoring, collecting injured birds and rehabilitating those we can. We will bring forward to the media the killing that takes place, irrespective of the threats received.

You too can help us save birds. Birdlife Malta has set up a crowdfunding campaign called #ISAVEBIRDS. You can save birds by supporting our cause, calling Birdlife Malta if you find an injured or shot bird, or joining our latest campaign here: http://www.zaar.com.mt/projects/isavebirds.

Darryl Grima is president of Birdlife Malta.

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