Sunday, April 17, 2011

Shooting of the spoonbills

It happened again. Last Friday’s storm forced several flocks of migrating spoonbills to seek shelter in the Maltese islands. 

The spoonbills were wintering in Africa, possibly in Tunisia where I have seen this species wintering in saltpans. The spoonbill can be found in Eurasia from Spain to Japan but in Europe it is restricted mainly to the Netherlands, Spain, Austria, Hungary and Greece. 

The birds shot last Friday were returning to their breeding grounds in Europe.

The shooting of a single spoonbill is despicable. Shooting several is contemptible and shameful. It can easily make an impact on the number of breeding spoonbills in a colony and it could be years before the size of the colony recovers.

These massacres have been going on for a long time and it is about time that they are stopped. 

When I was a kid I was once shocked to see tens of hunters shooting at several flocks of herons trying to seek shelter in St Thomas Bay during a storm. At the time shooting herons was not illegal and the hunters were all bragging and showing off their trophies. 

I remember one hunter claiming to have shot twenty one birds but he collected only seven as the rest were too badly mutilated and could not be stuffed and mounted for his collection. Things should have changed but unfortunately they have not. 

This is not an issue of hunters being faced with new legislation and finding it ‘impossible’ to adapt. Spoonbills have been protected for thirty years. Many of today’s hunters were not even born when it became illegal to shoot at a spoonbill while most hunters below the age of fifty started hunting when the spoonbill was already protected.

Hunters have been shooting at protected birds for three decades and it is about time for this reprehensible activity to be stopped. The hunting federation has condemned the illegal shooting of the spoonbills but this is not enough. 

The hunting organisations have had more than enough time in which to control their members but have failed to do so. They are now trying to convince one and all that if they are allowed to hunt in spring they will behave and will not shoot at protected birds but actions speak louder than words.

The government should stop trying to appease hunters. It should not even consider allowing hunting in spring when birds are returning to their breeding grounds and it should bring Malta in line with the rest of Europe once and for all. (This article was published on 23.02.2011).

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