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The Malta Migration  Massacre

The annual spring bird hunt in Malta is one of the greatest ornithological injustices in modern times, with thousands of birds indiscriminately shot out of the sky year after year. The hunt takes place during many species’ spring migration over the island and many of the victims are threatened species.

Hunting birds in spring is against EU law yet the hunt still goes ahead. This is a result of Malta’s derogations from the EU Birds Directive, allowing hunters to legally shoot Turtle Doves despite the bird being on the EU Red List and classified as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN (the same classification as the African Elephant).

pixabay | jon57

To give an idea of the threat, since 1970 Turtle Doves have faced a 96% population decrease in the UK and around a 30-49% decrease across Europe over the past 15 years; this year’s Malta spring hunt permitted the shooting of up to 16,000 Turtle Doves.

And it’s not just Turtle Doves. Wildlife presenter and conservationist Chris Packham went to Malta this March to film the illicit shooting of several other threatened species, including raptors. He and a team of wildlife film-makers made a YouTube mini-series showing the extent of the hunt. Although the shooting of Turtle Dove and Quail falls in line with the derogations, during their time there Packham and his team repeatedly found the bodies of extremely rare Montagu’s Harriers and Little Bitterns, along with a multitude of less rare but significant birdlife.

The hunt has been questioned in the past, but a referendum held in 2015 secured the continuation of the hunt by the narrowest of margins, receiving 50.4% of the national vote in favour of keeping it. However, a new referendum is on the horizon. A recent opinion poll revealed that 60% of the Maltese population are against the hunt; concerned that as conservation and environmental efforts become more global, the annual slaughter of such rare species would damage the national reputation of Malta.

flickr | Mickaël Dia

The irony is that the rarity of these birds would easily generate income through ecotourism, but that cannot be actualised if they’re made so rare that they can’t recover. So instead of hunting these birds, the Maltese government should protect them, make Malta a haven for them, to attract birdwatchers from all over.

There are obviously pro-hunt lobbyists and hunting fraternities set on preserving their right to fire at anything with feathers but, much like fox hunting in the UK, will hopefully be a thing of the past with the new referendum.

By Thomas Phillips - Online Journalism Intern

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