Tolga Temuge’s opinion-article entitled ‘Anna Mallia’s hunting fantasy’ (Maltatoday – May 12) is closer to fantasy than Dr. Mallia’s writing.
He writes: “In many European countries hunters do not shoot migratory birds as the Maltese hunters do.” Which are these European countries? Can he name them? All European countries shoot migratory birds.
“No other country in the EU has more hunters per square kilometre of the countryside than Malta”. So what? With 1,240 persons per square km, that is to be expected. Still, Malta occupies only third place in the EU. We have 14,000 hunters and trappers, or 1 per 29 inhabitants. By comparison, ratios for Ireland (350,000 hunters) and Finland (307,000) are 1:12 and 1:17 respectively.
“Poaching is rampant”. Except for Temuge and Birdlife Malta (BLM), everyone agrees this is no longer the case. He speaks of “weak law enforcement”. No matter how much better law enforcement has become, it seems that BLM will keep saying it is weak unless a stage is reached that not a single illegality is committed. This means never, because where there are laws there will always be those who ignore them.
“In the UK, Turtle Doves are considered to be a declining species and are protected.” So what? In France they are heavily shot, and yet their population is on the increase. This means the British have to look at what is wrong in their country. Maltese hunting cannot be the cause for the turtle-dove’s present status in the UK.
Temuge repeats the lie that “no member state in the EU has managed to obtain a spring hunting derogation.” Not true. Austria, Finland, and other countries also apply spring hunting or trapping derogations. If it was the government that opted for an ultra-short, so-called season of six mornings, it was probably because of pressure from EU Commission quarters.
Temuge mocks the decision to have hunters SMS their catch, calling it a comical measure. He does not appreciate that it is a serious measure aimed at controlling the hunters’ catch, and also an attempt to achieve an accurate and realistic count of the total seasonal bag. It is a good thing because hunters caught with unreported birds (un-SMS-ed) in their possession are liable to prosecution. Other countries report their catch by compiling what are known as decade-cards, which are returned to the relative authorities every 10 days. Malta’s SMS-system is definitely more efficient and reports in real time.
What Temuge and his ilk cannot grasp is the fact that the best available data of harvested birds can only be obtained through such systems, simply because physical evidence, the caught bird, can be supplied in support of the reports. Observations can never be so supported. This is also why the European Court of Justice, in its case against Malta, accepted the figures supplied by the Malta Attorney General taken from the ‘carnets-de-chasse’ of the Maltese hunters, against BirdLife figures that the Commission tried to introduce at a late stage, The Court, in its wisdom, could understand that Malta’s figures were ‘the best available data’.
“Standing in the countryside is anybody’s right, and using binoculars or cameras is not illegal”, Temuge says. But irrespective of the legal niceties, farmers and other countryside users, including hunters and trappers, have a right to privacy, or at least are presumed to have that right by law. Under present practices, however, farmers in many areas have had to endure being spied upon, even though they were not hunting but going about their work in their fields. BLM/CABS teams often called the police and asked them to check on hunters who had allegedly shot protected birds.
During subsequent police interrogation it turned out that the birds shot were not on the protected list. In one particular instance, reported to us in detail, a hunter was accused by the police of shooting a (protected) bee-eater, and they kept insisting he should produce the carcass.
But in fact he had fired one shot at a turtle-dove, while there happened to be a small flock of bee-eaters flying around. Fortunately the hunter’s dog meanwhile retrieved the turtle-dove, and he was able to show the bird to the police. In the meantime, however, he had to go through unnecessary hassle to prove to the police patrol that he had not broken the law. Is this fair?
Temuge refers to “the xenophobic statements (made) by the hunting lobby’s spokespersons”. As far as is known, people making xenophobic statements are liable to prosecution. So, would the BLM director explain why no court action was taken against the hunting lobby’s spokespersons!
Finally, Temuge takes it out on hunters for the “thousands of stuffed protected birds on display in personal vetrinas [sic] at home.” All law-abiding hunters have registered their showcase collections with the government department concerned.
Many of the stuffed birds are inherited from previous owners, bought at auctions, given by friends, shot years before the enactment of the present regulations, and so on. There is nothing wrong with keeping collections of stuffed birds, provided that no bird protection law is broken. It is a fact that taxidermy is an art which is encouraged everywhere, except here in Malta!
Mr Temuge concludes: “While everyone is entitled to their opinion, it should be based on facts when expressed to the public.” One wonders when the BLM executive director will start putting his own advice into practice.
Lino Farrugia is Secretary of
the Federation for Hunting & Conservation - Malta