Ladies and Gentlemen, in case you have not noticed Malta is getting its fair bit of coverage on the illustrious Times (de Londre). An article and a third of the editorial dedicated to isle of milk and honey. Surely the MTA must be proud of such advertising!
Fowl Play: Malta’s annual slaughter of migrating birds must be halted
The ritual massacre claims thousands every year: finches, quails and turtle doves, as well as kestrels, owls, marsh harriers and lesser spotted eagles – rare birds whose feathered beauty enchants millions in their native habitats. Each spring, as they undertake the long migration to their northern nesting places, they fly into the merciless gunfire of men who kill for sport – “hunters” who claim the slaughter as cultural observance.
Key migration routes across the southern Mediterranean have long posed the greatest threat to some of the rarest and loveliest species as marksmen in Italy, Cyprus and Lebanon compete each spring to bag the greatest number of migrating birds. Ornithologists and environmentalists have gradually succeeded in tightening European Union laws to force a halt to this pointless sport, though resistance in France and Italy remains strong. But Malta, one of the newest EU members, remains a blackspot. With more than 16,000 registered hunters out of a population of 400,000, the spring shoot is so ingrained that Malta pressed, disgracefully, for an opt-out in 2004. This is now being challenged in the European Court of Justice on the ground that hunters still shoot birds in the autumn on their way back from breeding – when not only quails but also swallows, warblers, osprey, purple herons and bitterns stand a chance of being gunned down.
A total ban is essential. Whatever the national culture, the fowls of the air belong to all nations. Urbanisation, loss of habitat and modern farming threaten millions of birds. Diversity must not be reduced further by gratuitous gunfire.
Bird Hunters become the hunted in battle to halt migration massacre*
Hunters who are willing to defy an international ban and shoot thousands of birds as they migrate from Africa to mainland Europe are being confronted by furious bird lovers in Malta. The Mediterranean island is a stopover for more than 100 species heading for northern nesting sites — oblivious to the local obsession for blasting birds out of the sky or trapping them under nets.
Malta has more than 16,000 registered hunters out of a population of 400,000 — by far the highest proportion in Europe — who regard the spring shoot as a part of island culture under threat from outsiders. They are especially angry this year because of a European Union attempt to silence their guns for ever at the European Court of Justice, viewed as the betrayal of a hunting concession to Malta when it joined the EU in 2004.
As hunting gets under way, the tension has increased further, with volunteer ornithologists arriving to monitor what they say is an annual massacre. According to International Animal Rescue Malta, last year gunmen claimed thousands of finches, quail and turtle doves as well as kestrels, hobbies, honey buzzards, owls, marsh harriers and a rare lesser spotted eagle.
Lino Farrugia, the president of the Maltese association that supports the hunt, said that it had been “instilled in the Maltese for generations” and there was little understanding of this. “I can assure you that the tension here is very high,” he said.
Mr Farrugia has called for calm after a couple of ugly incidents last year, including one alleged gunshot wound to a local ornithologist and the setting alight of several observers’ cars. “We know they \ are organising a camp this spring and we are trying to prevent confrontation,” he said. “It is not a birdwatching activity, it is a manhunt.”
Despite a general EU ban on shooting migrating birds before they can breed, the Maltese hunters argue that they have an opt-out allowing them to bag turtle doves and quail. For four years their Government has backed them but this year it has not opened the hunting season formally while the European Court of Justice decides whether the opt-out is legal.
The EU argues that, while an opt-out was discussed in 2004, Malta did not qualify because birds could still be shot on their way back in the autumn after breeding. An interim court order outlawing the spring shoot could be issued by the end of this week.
Grahame Madge, a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said: “From our perspective, Malta has been contravening European law ever since they acceded to the EU. This has cost the lives of many tens of thousands of birds and makes them the villains of Europe when it comes to bird protection because it is one of the key migration points across the Mediterranean.
“They want to be able to shoot turtle doves and quail but many birds like swallows, warblers, osprey, honey buzzards, marsh harriers, purple herons and bitterns also stand a chance of being gunned down. Hunters have taken to hiring boats to shoot birds out of the sky over the sea before they reached the island.”
Across the 124sq miles (320sq km) of Malta, some hunters have already started shooting and many more are likely to defy a ban, arguing that their traditions are misunderstood.
Alfred Zammit, 63, said: “I could tell you it’s the thrill of the chase, the feeling of being at one with nature, the hope and happiness or disappointment at the day’s outcome, the pleasure of working my dogs, the satisfaction of providing wild fare — and you would still not have understood, unless you are a hunter yourself.
“Quite simply, it is a way of life. For the real hunters the hunt fills practically every moment of their lives, including their dreams.”
* Note the article titles are taken from the Print version.