MaltaToday | 31 August 2008

NEWS | Sunday, 31 August 2008

The bird avengers come to do the preying

They call themselves CABS – the campaign against bird slaughter, and they are fearless avian vigilantes who are about to turn the hunters into the hunted.
To Lino Farrugia, the secretary-general of the hunters’ federation (FKNK), they are “mercenaries” who put the police “to shame by doing their job for them”.
Decked in their distinctive green anoraks with ‘CABS bird guard’ emblazoned in big bold yellow letters, and armed with mobile phones, binoculars and video cameras, the Berlin-based CABS will spend day and night monitoring hunting breaches for two weeks. They are an international squad of ornithologists and conservationists with a taste for animal justice: kind of Sir David Attenborough meets Charles Bronson. Without the 9mm guns, of course.
Their 24-man team will start work 13 September, and will spend two weeks recording bird migration data and patrolling illegal hunting hot-spots, joined by their Malta partners International Animal Rescue and Nature Trust.
Split into two-man teams, they keep watch on trapping fields and hunting spots, carrying out reconnaissance and logging every single going-on in their notebooks. They observe hunters’ activities and document all infringements of Maltese law. When a culprit is identified, they call the Maltese ALE unit.
Far from being a birdwatchers’ retreat, the CABS monitoring missions are described as “practical measures to stop the shooting of migrant birds on Malta”. They have been running the bird protection camp in Malta every spring since 2001, and President Heinz Schwarze says their presence reduces illegal hunting and trapping because when CABS teams are spotted, many hunters break off hunting completely and go home for fear of being caught.
In the night, they comb hunting spots to fish out illegal electronic bird callers used for attracting quail and turtle dove. Last year they found more than 300 such devices, including cables, car batteries, timers and loudspeakers used for hunting which they reported to the police. The cassette recorders are used primarily to lure quail migrating by night, which are then shot at daybreak. The callers are connected via long cables to loudspeakers away from their location, usually hidden away underground. CABS actually use bolt cutters and angle grinders to disable them.
Without doubt, the presence of CABS will generate a good deal of first-hand accounts and viral videos of protected birds being downed, altercations with hunters, and police officers effecting arrests.
Last year, CABS showed footage of an extremely rare Booted Eagle being shot down over Dwejra Lines. Volunteers were physically threatened by hunters, in one case even pointing a shotgun from point blank range to a volunteer’s stomach. Car tyres were slashed, they had stones thrown at them, verbal abuse (they are labelled ‘Nazis’ by the hunters), and also some indecent exposure.
Lino Farrugia claims the 3pm hunting curfew that was enacted recently has been “tailor-made” for CABS.
“It is obvious that hunting has been stopped after this hour precisely to accommodate these people,” Farrugia told MaltaToday. “They even thanked the government. The government is accommodating these mercenaries.”
And although Farrugia doesn’t deny the spate of illegal hunting and trapping detailed in last year’s CABS mission, he says the birdwatchers’ put to shame the police force. “I’m sure the police are not happy about these people doing their job for them… I don’t think we need foreigners to do their job.”

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