The Malta Independent 21 September 2019, Saturday

Underwater-trap for birds found in Siggiewi - CABS report 8 illegal bird trapping sites

Thursday, 22 August 2019, 14:47 Last update: about 30 days ago

In the last two weeks the conservation NGO Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) conducted a major reconnaissance operation to uncover the illegal trapping of protected sandpipers, greenshanks and other protected aquatic bird species on Malta. The operation included aerial survey flights as well as observers on the ground who were scanning the countryside for illegal nets and bird callers. Since 7 August a total of eight active trapping sites, each one equipped with huge nets, an artificial pond as well as live or plastic decoys, were found and reported to the police.

One poacher was caught red-handed last Tuesday in the fields east of Siggiewi where the man operated an ingenious trapping installation. To catch wading birds such as sandpipers (Pispisella in Maltese) a huge pond with an artificial sandbar had been built in a field. Caged birds as well as plastic decoys were put up around and served as additional lures to attract birds to the sandbar. The trapping mechanism consisted of a set of clap nets which were installed just below the water surface left and right from the sandbar. The net was dismantled and confiscated by the police. However, several live decoys, defined as corpus delicti, were not seized, neither did the police search the trapping hide or the property attached to the trapping site. "Recently we have noticed that it seems to have become standard police procedure to remove nets only instead of conducting proper site investigations and exhaust all possibilities to secure additional evidence" , Ms. Burrows added.

The pictures attached to this PR show the “underwater-net” and the decoys in Siggiewi photographed from a plane.

In another case the police are searching for a 40 year-old male individual who was filmed by CABS while trapping birds in a walled property in the countryside near Dingli on August 9. To catch protected birds the man used a 30 meter-long clap net as well as a caged Greenshank and an illegal electronic bird caller.

“Electronic callers are very effective tools which help poachers to trap birds in masses. The disadvantage is that the emitted calls can also be heard by our teams thus leading them directly to illegal trapping sites”, CABS Wildlife Crime Officer Fiona Burrows explained. She added that when CABS reported the Dingli case no officers from the A.L.E. – the police unit responsible to enforce the hunting law -  were immediately available as all were given other duties. According to CABS it took the police more than an hour to respond to the report and raid the trapping site. The trapper, who was still actively trapping when the police arrived, ran off when he saw the officers approaching.  Despite a search of the area he could not be found.

A poacher who was trapping birds in Birzebuggia was less fortunate. After CABS reported him to the police, officers of the A.L.E. raided his trapping site and apprehended the suspect last week. According to CABS the police is currently investigating five additional reports from CABS about illegal bird trapping in other regions of Malta and on Gozo.

During a night patrol in the surroundings of Rabat on the 8th of August a CABS team detected another illegal bird caller imitating the songs of Redshanks, Curlews and other waterbirds. “As the A.L.E. are not on duty during night hours our team went to the police station in Rabat and asked for support. Two officers went with the CABS team and subsequently found the device. “It was obvious that the machine was used for illegal purposes but the sergeant in charge refused to confiscate or at least switch off the device despite standing only one meter away from it. We explained to him that the use of electronic bird callers is an offence but the police subsequently left and the machine was still calling loudly”, CABS Press Officer Axel Hirschfeld said. CABS has repeatedly complained that the lack of A.L.E. night shifts is fueling illegal trapping activity and the use of bird callers in the night. “Though the law says that night trapping is forbidden throughout the year, the government made the decision not to monitor the observance of this regulation”, Axel Hirschfeld said.

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