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Letters • January 18 2004

Were the spoonbills killed?

Aaron Vella
St Paul’s Bay

With reference to the latest alleged killing of two spoonbills at the Ghadira Nature Reserve, I would like to comment on certain points that have been overlooked.
There’s no question that some hunters do break the law, and in some instances to extreme extents, but it is very unfair that now that two birds went missing the hunters are blamed. Although some evidence was found on the site of the alleged crime, it is only circumstantial.
In my opinion, the evidence found points nowhere, because the cut fence, wooden plank and tire marks could not be related. The only clue that something was amiss was the claim by birdlife that some blood stained white feathers were found.
What the readers and press do not know is that feathers drop off as soon as they are stricken, so they fall off unstained. Feathers only get stained when they remain attached and blood exits the body. It is very unlikely that blood stained feathers dropped off on site because the blood does take a while to exit, because of the thick feathers. And if blood does exit quickly and stain the feathers, the same blood restrains the feathers from falling off.
Although some persons have been questioned, the police seem to be baffled by the lack of true evidence. Because of Malta’s small size, the police usually catch the culprits easily, but this time the investigations ran cold.
On the other hand, why is everyone blaming the hunters? To have a hunting licence you have to have a clean police conduct certificate. Does everyone think that individuals in the right state of mind go to such extreme extents to catch a bird or two illegally? All that hassle when they risk being sent to prison! So at the end of the day, if the birds were actually caught, it could result that unlicensed individuals using unlicensed guns could be the culprits.
As usually happens in Malta "innocent unless proven guilty" does not stand: you are immediately blamed for a crime that is still assumed. In my opinion the Police should investigate the authenticity of this story. Hunting associations condemned the alleged crime, but still questioned the incident. Did everyone forget that birds have wings? These creatures were free to go at any time they pleased.
You may ask; "and what about the evidence?" It may have been fabricated, because let’s face it, everyone knows to what extents Birdlife and other associations would go to see hunting in Malta completely abolished. Birdlife themselves proved how adamant they are to see spring hunting eradicated. In their statement about the Spoonbill issue they concluded by saying that spring hunting should be abolished. What does bird migration in winter have to do with spring hunting?
Birdlife wish to see spring hunting abolished not to protect the two hunted species, turtle doves and quails, but because along with these, many other birds migrate, including birds of prey. Birdlife should push to limit spring hunting slightly less, include game wardens and force the authorities to increase the penalties drastically.
While praising every environmental association for its essential work, it is high time to see who is really damaging Malta’s name, the few hunters who still break the law, or some environmentalists, along with the press, who make a whole chronicle worldwide about a minor incident. Let us not forget that these things happen everywhere.

Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 02, Malta