Poachers taking advantage of reduced police resources due to COVID-19

Poachers are “taking advantage of reduced police resources,” according to the Committee Against Bird Slaughter’s (CABS) which said that since 9 March the organisation documented and reported18 cases of illegal trapping and two cases of hunting despite the season being closed.

Birdlife Malta has also said it received seven illegally shot protected birds – three Common Kestrels and four Marsh Harriers – over the past three days. The birds were confirmed as illegal hunting casualties by the government veterinarian, the environmental organisation said.

Birdlife Malta said that hunters and trappers were currently openly “flouting the law” when hunting was supposed to be prohibited.

While the public is asked to stay home due to the COVID-19 outbreak, with fines for people in groups of four or more, Cabinet has requested an urgent meeting with the ORNIS Committee to rubberstamp a spring hunting season, Birdlife said in a statement.

“In view of the fact that the police and security forces are stretched and involved in activities related to the COVID-19 crisis, it would not only be impossible for the police to enforce the law, but also a blatant lack of responsibility on the part of the government if the season had to be opened now,” Birdlife said.

Opening the spring hunting season, even for one species, quail, would be “the most irresponsible act by Prime Minister Robert Abela, it continued, since the conditions laid down by the EU Birds Directive state that for every 1,000 hunters, there had to be seven police officers or individuals to ensure that the law was enforced.

Since the police were unable to guarantee strict supervision, CABS feared that illegalities related to hunting, such as shooting protected species or using forbidden electronic lures, would experience a sharp increase.

CABS Press Officer Axel Hirschfeld criticised the hunting organisation FKNK for their recent and repeated calls on the government to lift the spring hunting ban for Turtle Doves, arguing that the bird is close to extinction, having declined by 80% in most European countries in the last 25 years.

“By requesting a spring hunting season for it the FKNK shows once again that they spit on responsible hunting and conservation and instead are solely focused on facilitating maximum shooting pleasure for their members,” Hirschfeld, a biologist, said.

Birdlife added that it understood that the health of the country was a priority, but it could not accept such abuse. It appealed to Abela to openly state that the 2020 spring hunting season will not be open due to the delicate situation the country was facing, which called for restraint and responsibility.

Birdlife also reminded Abela about the “illegal decision” taken to place the ORNIS Committee, the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) and the Conservation of Wild Birds Regulations under Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri, which “continues to undermine the promise that this government was be committed to environment protection”.

“According to Malta’s environmental laws, Minister Camilleri does not have the legal remit to take decisions on hunting and trapping,” it said.

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