Claudine Cassar | Sunday, 27 September 2009

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The indiscriminate killing of birds must stop. Now.

Over the last few days, Birdlife and CABS representatives found over 190 carcasses of protected birds hidden in Mizieb. The dead birds included several night herons, kestrels, marsh harriers, falcons, honey buzzards, raptors, nightingales, nightjars, hoopoes and even some racing pigeons.
As soon as the news hit the stands, the accusations and counter-accusations started to fly. Various conspiracy theories were aired, with one common theme overriding the rest. The birds were planted there by the over-zealous bird lovers, intent on causing problems for FKNK.
According to some, it would have been impossible for the birds to have been buried in Mizieb, because picnicking families or hunting dogs would have unearthed them. None of them, however, tried to delve into the mechanics of how the bird conspirators would have contrived to hide over 150 birds in an area which is usually teeming with people, most of whom are hunters.
They also did not address the small matter of how exactly the bird lovers would have laid their hands on 190 carcasses. Are they suggesting that Birdlife and CABS have been shooting birds on the sly, in order to pass them off as victims of poachers?
A possible suggestion, I guess, would be that Birdlife has collected the bird bodies that they have found over the years, including those of birds brought to them injured by passers-by and frozen them. After filling up around 15 freezers full of protected birds, they then defrosted them, and planted them in Mizieb in the dead of night.
That would be an interesting theory – however it is worth pointing out that the birds would still have been killed by poachers at some point in time or another. Those 190 birds have died, there is no doubt about it. They either fell dead out of the sky struck by lightning, or else someone shot them to kingdom come.
Frankly, these theories do not hold water. One of the news reports mentions how the volunteers unearthed more bodies (as police officers looked on), several hunters were shooting in the area. It appears that their dogs were not interested in the many carcasses that had been dug up. So if they were not interested on Wednesday, then it is fair to assume that they would not have been interested last week, or the week before. So much for their acute sense of smell! Perhaps it has been dulled by the dogs’ constant proximity to hundreds of interred dead birds – they just stop getting excited about it after a while.
It also does not make sense to say that the birds could not have been hidden in the area because picnickers would have found them. How on earth can FKNK vouch for the fact that no kid has ever dug up a bird in Mizieb? Perhaps kids find dead birds at Mizieb every weekend, for all we know!
In addition, I am pretty certain that security at Mizieb was heightened on Sunday, so the assumption must be that if someone planted the birds, they did so before that day. The next day, Monday, was a public holiday, and many families would have visited the place, armed with plastic tables, picnic baskets and nosy kids… however, nobody reported finding any dead birds.
Seeing as around 50 carcasses were discovered on Wednesday, we can only make one of two deductions. The first is that the sneaky bird lovers once again managed to sneak into Mizieb with dozens of defrosted birds and eluded the 300 members of FKNK that regularly roam around the reserve (presumably with their trusty hounds who have an advanced sense of smell). The second is that families enjoying the fresh air and sunshine do not usually dig around and search dirty rusty barrels – and that if someone does come across a decomposing body they just go “Eeek!” and try and put as much distance between themselves and the dead bird as possible.
FKNK have apparently asked for an autopsy to be performed on the birds to determine cause of death. This is a good idea and one that I hope the authorities will take them up on.
However, the time has come to call a spade a spade. These birds do not belong to the hunters – in fact, they do not belong to the Maltese. The fact that they fly over our islands does not make them our property. It is our duty to ensure that they fly over Malta and Gozo unmolested, proceeding to the next leg of their journey.
Some people will obviously disagree with me, but I am certain that many, many more see it the way I do. The government has promised us that it is taking environmental matters seriously and that it understands the concerns of the common citizen. Well, birds are part of our environment. It is not just about villas and farmhouses, it is also about the flora and fauna that grace the ODZ areas we are always going on about. So it is about time that more resources are made available to stop the carnage!
The Administrative Law Enforcement Unit (ALE) needs to be reinforced. This dedicated team of police officers are battling against the odds. There are only around 30 of them, trying to monitor the actions of thousands of hunters. It is simply impossible.
The signs are that next Spring the hunting season will once again be opened. This is not a bad thing if the hunting confraternity follows the rules and hunting quotas set. However the likelihood is that a good percentage of these hunters are not doing things by the book. These rogue hunters shoot at anything that flies, and this cannot go on.
Stop the indiscriminate killing!


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