The Malta Independent 24 September 2020, Thursday

Updated: Alleged barn owl thief remanded in custody

Thursday, 10 September 2020, 12:05 Last update: about 13 days ago

A man charged with stealing two barn owls was remanded in custody by the courts on Thursday.

32-year-old tree groomer Ronald Azzopardi, from Zabbar, appeared before magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo on Thursday to face accusations of stealing two barn owls and surgically changing their appearance.

The barn owls were stolen from an enclosure belonging to the FKNK in Buskett which is part of a conservation project for the birds.

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The man was also accused of cruelty to animals, criminal damage and violation of private property.

Azzopardi, through legal aid Fransina Abela, pleaded not guilty, and requested bail.

This was opposed by the prosecution however on the basis that there are still several civilian witnesses to testify, who will be brought in the first sitting.

Bail was denied on this basis.

The hunting federation, the FKNK, reported on Tuesday that two barn owls from its conservation project had been stolen. It released CCTV footage showing a masked man entering the enclosure and stealing two of the protected birds. At one point in the video, the man can be seen plucking feathers off one of the birds.

The project aims to reintroduce barn owls in suitable environments in Malta and Gozo through a technique successfully conducted by falconers across the globe.

The barn owls were being kept in specialised rooms at the Razzet tal-Bagħal before being released into the surrounding greenspace. There were five owls in total.

One News reported on Wednesday that the remaining owls were so distraught that they were not eating.

The Environment Ministry said the owls, which are birds of prey, are far more sensitive than most other birds, and had to be relocated since they no longer felt safe.

It said it would be supporting all efforts to rehabilitate the birds, strengthen the safety and security of the enclosures & ensure the project carries on even stronger.

Photo: Alenka Falzon

Video: Giuseppe Attard

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