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category: Culture,Gazette,Stuff

The Pecking Order

Saturday, September 6, 2014 by

The thorny issue of hunting and trapping in Malta is one that seems to elicit strong emotions and fiery tempers while ignoring key facts and foregoing unbiased judgement. As the liberals bank on celebrity endorsements and heartstring pulling images àla PETA to get their message across, and the traditional attempt to use custom and The Maltese Way to convince the public, everyone seems to be forgetting how we actually got to this loggerheaded situation. We should, in fact, be seeing both sides and attempting to resolve this inherently Maltese issue together.

But it isn’t that easy. The argument has become mired in bad blood, broken promises, and both wanted and unwanted foreign intervention, largely becoming a vendetta style war between Birdlife Malta and the FKNK. So PATRON decided to find someone who would be able to give us the lay of the land in this hostile feud, with a bias to no side.

 

This turned out to be impossible, so instead we found someone who has a bias to both sides.

 

After being raised in a hunting family who held birds to the highest regard (as most hunting families do), Charles Coleiro decided to drop the gun and instead aim his binoculars at the overhead avialae. As an ornithologist, he has been studying bird migration in the Maltese islands for the last thirty years and works as a warden at Simar Nature Reserve. He has intimate contacts in both the pro and anti hunting parties, so PATRON kindly asked Charles to take some time out of his busy schedule to attempt to clear up some deets about hunting in Malta.

chalie

All opinions expressed below are the sole opinion of Mr. Coleiro and are not the opinions of Birdlife Malta, FKNK, or any nature reserves in Malta.

PATRON: As someone who works very closely with wildlife and birds especially, you come into contact with both hunters and Birdlife representatives regularly. What are your thoughts on both sides of the argument? And I am not talking about illegal hunting, because obviously that should be condemned across the board.

 

Charles: Ideally, hunting and killing of wild animals, including birds, wherever in the world, should stop. But realistically it will never stop. So some sort of control has to be in place at the very least. The shooting of birds in Malta is carried out on a large scale by a considerable number of hunters and takes place in almost every area of what countryside is left in an already crammed up island.
Until a few years ago there was no control over what was being shot at and almost all species of birds were shot at, either for the pot or else to keep as a trophy. Birds like quail, turtle dove, song thrush, woodcock, and most ducks have always been regarded as game birds and are still very popular with hunters. On the other hand, other species of birds like raptors, herons, and all these other colourful species were mainly targeted for taxidermy so the hunters could build up a collection. For many years, especially between the ‘60s and ‘90s, it was widely accepted by hunters that shooting at any species they’d like to was the norm. Even though most species they were shooting at were protected by law, widespread illegal hunting was carried out blatantly. Enforcement was non-existent and self regulated hunting was unheard of, so it became the norm for hunters, it was just their way of life. And that’s the root of all the problems the hunters are facing now.

So the government’s laissez-faire attitude was a big contributor to today’s hunters attitudes. What a surprise. Is there a local movement for banning bird hunting, or is it mainly the stereotypical foreigners like Germans and British people coming here to try to change the laws?

Locally, at least within Birdlife Malta, there is no movement to ban bird hunting. As I said before, that would be ideal, and some people I know are idealistic, but realistically that will never happen so Birdlife has always taken the route of campaigning against illegalities. Currently, at least since we joined the EU, spring hunting is regarded as illegal in most countries. However, since the main ‘traditional’ hunting in Malta of turtle dove and quail is mostly carried out in spring, derogations are being applied. But Birdlife Malta is totally against these derogations as they say they’re just loopholes to enable more illegalities since hunters are still not trusted to the full.
Regarding the stereotypical foreigners like Germans and Brits coming here to try to change the laws, I don’t fully agree with that statement. It’s true that some of these foreigners are extremists and idealists, but the majority just want to enjoy birdwatching and have some opportunities to observe protected species not being shot at or killed all the time.

That’s reasonable. The last decade has brought a lot of change and turbulence for Maltese hunters. What is different now than it was thirty years ago?

Hunters, and especially FKNK and any other hunting associations, were never pro-active in forcing the hunters to obey the laws when enforcement of the laws was non-existent. But when during the last decade there was some effort to carry out law enforcement the hunters felt that their hunting tradition was being threatened. Birdlife Malta has been complaining and campaigning against illegal hunting for the last fifty years but the hunters never complied.
Today we have come to a point where hunters are more aware of what is legal and what is not. Because of regular enforcement and prosecutions leading to hefty fines, the majority of hunters are, for the most part, obeying the laws. The way I see it, if the hunters were always law abiding they wouldn’t be in the current problematic situation and hunting wouldn’t be an issue as it now.
In a way, it’s a pity that they never took notice of Birdlife Malta when they were campaigning against the blatant illegal hunting. The hunters were always trying to make fun of Birdlife, which they still do to this day, but now they are being made fun of by most Maltese people.

That’s a shame. As for the hunters, they say hunting is a tradition, a way of life they knew since they were born. Do you see this higher connection with nature in the hunters – are they conservationists, or are they brutes who are just trying to shoot anything that moves?

I fully agree that hunting is a tradition, a way of life they’ve been involved in since they were born, it’s very true. But that’s where the problem is. Hunters have to start practicing self regulation and completely accept that all other species that are not classified as game birds are not to be shot at and are to be protected. Unfortunately this will probably still take a generation or two to be really accepted as I feel it is still very much ingrained in them, but it appears that the majority are doing a huge effort to become self regulatory. As for being conservationists or brutes, you cannot really generalize. A conservationist is widely accepted as someone who believes and works towards the idea that nature in general has to be improved, conserved and protected so as to make all habitats and their associated species safer. I personally do not see this in the local hunters. As for being brutes, again you cannot generalize. You do find hunters who try to bully other hunters even, but the majority I believe are not.

I see. Do you have any problems with hunters coming onto your reserve to hunt, or do they respect the boundaries?

The majority of hunters respect the boundaries of the reserve I work in, and also other nature reserves. Break-ins still occasionally take place but that will be down to certain individuals who continually persist in breaking laws. You have to remember that the nature reserve I work in is completely fenced in with regular checking of the fence…other nature reserves are not fenced hence they are more liable to intrusion by illegal hunters and/or poachers.

Lucky you. Coming from a hunting background but working in a nature reserve, you are well positioned to see the whole picture. What would your ideal solution to hunting in Malta be? Ban it completely? Change the hunting seasons, or change the species of birds that can be hunted?

I do not agree with a total hunting ban. I would allow some spring hunting under strict conditions. What we need is more law enforcement, strict hunting conditions including certain hunting hours in public places, a bag limit for certain game birds especially in spring, and more nature parks where hunting will be totally controlled.

Thanks Charles.

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