The Malta Independent 15 October 2021, Friday

Vulture Conservation Foundation writes to Robert Abela after rare bird is shot down over Dingli

Thursday, 16 September 2021, 19:02 Last update: about 29 days ago

The Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF), a leading organisation in the conservation of European vultures, has written to Prime Minister Robert Abela expressing its anger after a rare bird which was part of one of its conservation projects was shot down over Dingli two days ago.

On Tuesday it was reported how an endangered Egyptian Vulture named Isabel, which was released from a captive breeding programme in Italy on 20 August, disappeared as it flew over Dingli on 14 September – with the bird most likely having been shot down by Maltese poachers.

The bird had a GPS tag on to monitor its movements, however the crew behind the foundation lost its signal on Tuesday, and a search for the bird proved to be futile.

“Data from the tag suggests that it was shot and killed, and most probably the body taken away, and the tag destroyed,” the VCF said in its letter.

The VCF said that four of the five birds released this year started their migration to reach their African wintering areas.

Two reached western Sicily, crossed the Sicily Channel and are now in Tunisia. The other two followed an eastern route and reached Malta.

One arrived in Malta on the 6th of September, and we have credible information that this bird was shot at on September 7th, but luckily it was not killed, flew away immediately and reached Libya some hours later.

The second bird – Isabel – was not so lucky.

The shooting of these Egyptian vultures is a major blow to the conservation of the species in Italy and elsewhere, the VCF said.

There are only about 1600 pairs of Egyptian Vultures in Europe, and maximum of 10 pairs in Italy. Of all the European vultures, the Egyptian Vulture is the only species that is not increasing. To try to improve its conservation status, the EU and many national governments have invested significant financial resources for the conservation of this species. Since 1995 alone, there has been at least 25 EU funded LIFE projects related with this species, with a total investment of around € 70 million.

Two recent projects in Southern Italy have been trying to save the highly endangered Italian population of the species, one of which includes the captive-breeding and release of young Egyptian Vultures like Isabel.

The estimated cost to “produce” an Egyptian vulture for reintroduction has been put at €50,000. Considering that in the last few years between 4 and 7 birds have been released per year in southern Italy, the yearly costs of Egyptian vulture restocking there (not even considering the monitoring) is between €200,000 and €350,000.

“Unfortunately, our joint efforts to protect the last Egyptian Vultures are jeopardised by the reckless attitude of Maltese shooters, which also compromise Malta’s legal obligations under the EU Birds Directive,” the VCF said.

“The killing of protected species is a serious environmental crime, we are therefore asking you to take all possible action to investigate and punish this crime. We suggest that an expert forensic wildlife investigation is started so that a suspect is eventually identified, and criminal proceedings are started. We work alongside many enforcement agencies from EU countries that can offer you help and support,” the foundation added.

“It is unconceivable that in the year 2021 rogue people are allowed to shoot such birds illegally with impunity. We demand swift action to prevent further such incidents to occur,” they said.

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