PETER FROST is outraged that year in and year out millions of migratory birds fly over Malta where they are killed by the thousands to satisfy a primitive bloodlust.
Each spring millions of birds fly north across the Mediterranean Sea on their way to Britain and the rest of Europe after wintering in Africa.
The popular holiday island of Malta lies on one of these key bird-migration routes and every spring thousands of Maltese hunters point their guns skyward and blast these birds of passage out of the sky.
The hunters claim their targets are the traditional quarry of turtle doves and quail but in fact anything with feathers is considered fair game. Thousands of local hunters arrive in trucks with banners and slogans such as “If it flies it dies.”
Over the last three years nearly eighty species of bird, including 17 species of birds of prey, have been recorded shot illegally by these Maltese hunters. Thousands of protected species, including birds of prey or herons, are persecuted each year.
Of these 80 species there were four species of very serious global conservation concern. They are Audouin’s gull, pallid harrier, red-footed falcon and lesser kestrel. The latter (below) is considered under threat of total worldwide extinction.
Another 40 species are of European conservation concern, including greater flamingo, crane, kingfisher and lesser spotted eagle. The spring bloodlust also slaughters owls, swifts, swallows, martins, cuckoos and nightingales.
Far from showing any guilt Maltese hunters have recently requested that the islands’ government further defy international bird protection laws and the European Court of Justice by permitting the spring shooting of quail and turtle dove in even larger numbers.
The spring hunting of quail and turtle doves is illegal all across Europe but the Maltese government allows hunters to ignore the ban under special agreements with the European courts. They claim the slaughter is a long established cultural tradition.
Last week a special referendum in Malta narrowly rejected a proposed ban on the slaughter. The result was very close with just 2,220 more votes deciding against the ban out of a total of over a quarter of a million votes cast. Malta’s population is just over half a million.
Hunters scored 50.4 per cent of the vote mostly thanks to a strong showing from the island of Gozo, perhaps the most pro-hunting part of Malta. So the hunting goes on and thousands of birds will die this spring in Malta.
Against this background of wild-bird slaughter in Malta let me introduce Karmenu Vella (above). This 64-year-old politician is a long-serving member of Malta’s government, which has overseen and approved the widespread slaughter of birdlife on the island — including many endangered species.
Amazingly Vella took up last November his new job European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.
Vella being put in charge of the European commission’s environment portfolio, which has specific responsibility for birdlife and its habitats, has horrified green groups, campaigners and wildlife protection organisations. It certainly terrifies me.
Many feel that Vella’s appointment is part of the newly elected commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s plan to weaken the powers of Europe’s environment directorate and that Vella has been selected specifically to implement these changes.
Other parts of Europe also have their illegal bird hunting too although tighter legislation and more enlightened environmental thinking have reduced, and are reducing, its impact.
As well as Malta hunters in parts of Spain and much of Italy still shoot and kill protected birds.
One of the worst offenders is Cyprus where around 10 million songbirds a year are shot, netted or limed to make a traditional Cypriot dish. Liming is a particularly cruel way of catching birds using gluey lime. The birds land on the lime and cannot then get free. They die slowly and in pain.
The birds are often either pickled or poached for an island delicacy called ambekopoulia (below).
The dish is expensive and illegal. It can still be found in many traditional restaurants. One restaurant owner with ambelopoulia on his menu explains its popularity by likening it to Viagra.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star 17 April 2015