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NEWS | Wednesday, 25 March 2009

New spring brings more visitors, but also poachers

Malta’s second spring without legal hunting has once again proved a spectacular sight for birdwatchers.
On 22 and 23 March – traditionally the first day of the spring season – there was a large influx of birds of prey, including Black Kites and Marsh harriers.
The Ghadira nature reserve last weekend also welcomed a large flock of Great White Egrets and a Flamingo, among other waders. Also, one of the first Spoonbills to visit Malta this spring turned out to be a ringed specimen: viewed in close-up, the ring number revealed that the bird had been ringed as a hatchling on 27 April 2000 at the Valli di Comacchio (northeast Italy). It was seen a further four times also in Italy, mainly at Comacchio in August 2004, April 2005, June 2006 and last in April 2008.
The bird was observed in Malta on 10 March at Ghadira. It left at about 10am and was seen over Comino at 2.30am. It then returned to the reserve and roosted for the night before leaving the following morning.
BirdLife Malta’s conservation manager Andre Raine explained that the early influx this spring confirms the importance of Malta along the European-African migratory flyway, particularly as a place to rest and refuel during the onward migration to European breeding grounds.
“The fact that this is a closed hunting season has undoubtedly resulted in fewer numbers of these birds being targeted by poachers, as with all shooting now illegal it makes law enforcement much easier for the ALE,” he said. “As with last year, we expect the ban on spring hunting to not only dramatically reduce incidences of illegal hunting during this period, but also to allow species such as Turtle Dove and Quail the chance to breed in Malta again as they have done so in the past. However, this will only happen if there is sufficient law enforcement.”
At present the Administrative Law enforcement agency number fewer than 30 officers to cover the whole of Malta and Gozo.
BirdLife Malta stresses that unless the ALE are given sufficient resources, including extra officers and vehicles, the situation will get progressively worse as the spring migration peaks in the coming weeks.
“There is no way that under 30 officers can adequately cover over 16,000 licensed hunters and trappers over the whole of Malta and Gozo, and we expect the Maltese government to take the situation seriously and give the ALE the resources that it needs,” Raine said. “Furthermore, a Wildlife Crime Unit needs to be created that will function 365 days a year. This Unit would need to be dedicated to wildlife crime, so that the situation is dealt with year round.
“Lastly the criminals who are caught need to be given seriously penalised where necessary at the courts and not simply be allowed to walk away with a slap on the wrist, otherwise there is no reason why they should not just offend again and again.”


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