The Malta Independent 22 February 2020, Saturday

TMID Editorial: Illegal hunting - How about some investment in the wildlife crime unit?

Saturday, 24 August 2019, 10:22 Last update: about 7 months ago

Earlier this week, beachgoers were delighted when a greater flamingo landed at Ghadira and spent some time wading in the shallow water before being picked up by wildlife experts and taken to a safer area.

It was a rare moment where the non-hunting majority could admire nature at its best.

A few hours later, another flamingo that formed part of the same flock was shot down over Delimara, in full view of Birdlife Malta’s CEO, who alerted the police.

In a live video, Mark Sultana said he had called the police twenty minutes earlier, but no one had shown up by that time.

The Parliamentary Secretary responsible for hunting, Clint Camilleri, condemned the incident and said the police were investigating but, so far, we have not been informed of any arrests.

On Wednesday, Birdlife Malta said a second flamingo had been shot down over Marsaxlokk. The injured bird was taken to a government vet, who confirmed that it had been illegally shot during closed season.

The organisation had argued some months ago that rogue hunters would use the ongoing rabbit hunting season as a smokescreen to shoot down protected birds, and it seems they were right.

Apart from proving that hunting illegalities still persist in this country, these incidents and other recent ones also show that the police unit tasked with fighting wildlife crime is still massively understaffed and underequipped.

On Thursday, the Committee Against Bird Slaughter, a German volunteer group that monitors illegal hunting and trapping practices, said it had identified and reported no less than eight illegal trapping sites across the country.

There are two points to be drawn from the CABS report. The first is the sophistication that some trappers are resorting to in their quest to cage protected species. Surveillance conducted by CABS members found several illegal trapping sites had been equipped with artificial ponds, underwater nets, electronic bird callers and plastic decoys … the works.

These sites were partly discovered through the use of aerial survey flights – surely a tactic that the police ought to be employing.

The second point to be made, in fact, is about the inadequacy of the Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) unit and the apparent lack of training given to normal police units when dealing with such crimes.

In several of the cases, CABS reported that the police took too much time to respond, did not respond at all or did not carry out proper searches at the crime scenes, to the extent that some illegal trapping equipment was not confiscated.

In one particular case, the group said a sergeant from the Rabat police station was directed to an illegal electronic bird caller but refused to confiscate it or at least switch it off, despite the fact that he was only “one metre away.”

CABS also reported that a number of illegalities are taking place at night, when the ALE officers are not on duty.

It is quite clear that certain hunters and trappers are taking advantage of this lack of police resources and have also realised that they can operate with impunity during certain parts of the day (or night).

Rogue hunters and trappers will keep exploiting these failures, and illegalities will persist unless these gaps are closed. While the bulk of police force has seen big investments in terms of training, equipment and resources, the unit dedicated to fighting wildlife crime always seems to be left behind. The ALE had its own bit of success this week when it found hundreds of dead protected birds that had been illegally imported into the country. But when it comes to resources in the field, this unit is still lacking.

It is high time that the ALE too gets some new equipment and more people to do the job it is tasked with.

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