The Malta Independent 26 May 2018, Saturday

Hunting fines only bother those that break the law

Tuesday, 12 September 2017, 13:07 Last update: about 9 months ago

Mark Sultana

With over 30 years of being involved in bird conservation in Malta, I tend to fall into the trap of being content with the successes Malta has achieved in this field, while possibly even thinking that maybe the problem of illegal hunting is over.

I will say it upfront, it isn’t!

I don’t want to be misunderstood. We have come a long way from my early days of bird watching. I still carry the memories of seeing hundreds of honey buzzards and other birds of prey being shot dead in Buskett every September. Thanks to the awareness campaigns and lobbying by the Malta Ornithological Society (MOS) at that time, now BirdLife Malta, we brought a change. Bird protection laws were enacted, land of ecological importance got designated as bird sanctuaries and nature reserves, and eventually a start to law enforcement which was inexistent tens of years ago. The result is that less protected birds are being targeted today.  When compared to ten or even more so twenty years ago, nobody denies this and I certainly don’t either.


My concern today is that we are still not at a safe point yet. What I mean is that it is very easy to go back to seeing an increase in illegal hunting. Hunters in our country have not stopped killing protected birds because they understand the conservation value of it. Let’s call a spade a spade, the fear factor of being caught and heavily sentenced is what holds most hunters from shooting a protected bird. This fear factor is very volatile. A simple look at stats show that the hunting seasons prior to general elections show spikes of illegalities just because there is a sense of lack of enforcement and that illegal hunting could evade being caught during that period. Till today, substantial number of hunters feel that if they could get away with shooting a protected bird they would target one.

So it is a big mistake if just because we improved from the ugly days of 20 years ago, the government relaxes enforcement or even worse reduces legislation and relative fines. This is a hot topic on the agenda right now and I cannot understand why would a government reduce fines when the only ones that benefit from this would be those that break the law. The message that it would send would be devastating and will end up with an increase in illegalities. To the contrary, it is now when those breaking the law of hunting and trapping are reducing, that the extra effort is needed, and it will reap better results.

BirdLife Malta is not focusing only on the hunting and trapping problem. It has already increased its efforts in other issues that are detrimental to biodiversity in general. Projects including light and air pollution and policy work in relation to excessive unsustainable development are a constant part of our work now a day. That along with the successful educational work we do with children and the management of nature reserves put us in the forefront to collaborate with all stakeholders, including those with whom we do not fully agree on all issues. Focusing on common grounds is crucial and this includes illegal hunting

BirdLife Malta has been asking for a specialised Wildlife Crime Unit for a substantial number of years. This would be a team within the police force with specific training and equipment and that works closely with environmental NGOs to eradicate wildlife crime. There needs to be a strong political will for this to come true, but in reality it should be easy to justify. Everyone, even the hunting lobby, should be in favour of improving enforcement. Because after all, enforcement, just like fines, only bothers those who break the law.


Mr Sultana is the CEO of BirdLife Malta

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