What is the Prime Minister waiting for?
With the killing of 31 protected species of birds so far this autumn, one really must ask what the Prime Minister is waiting for to, at the very least, suspend the autumn hunting season until the main migration season for protected birds has passed us by.
31 protected birds have been shot dead and many more have been injured by hunters. Given the sheer number of illegalities taking place, the issue has now superseded the mere hunting controversy and has become an issue of basic law and order.
It is high time that the government pulls the plug on this year’s autumn hunting season. The self-regulation that the hunter’s lobbies have spoken of in such lofty terms has evidently failed miserably.
The situation is now beyond ridiculous: the government must take immediate action and apply a zero tolerance policy to illegal hunting. As the death toll continues to rise, the government’s environmental rating will continue to plummet with equal speed.
This fact will be driven home further today by BirdLife Malta, which is due to brief the press this afternoon on the toll that this season’s hunting season has taken on bird species that are protected for a very good reason.
The fact that it is, in reality, a few bad apples within the hunting community that are causing the problem is irrelevant. It is only when each and every hunter is well aware that their actions will have a lasting effect on their fellow hunters, and the repercussions that could come with that, that they will find it within themselves to rectify their ways. On the other hand, the government was
recently more than ready to back a call from hunters’ lobbies to apply a moratorium on spring hunting, so as to re-enforce their argument that Malta’s hunting practices have nothing to do with the decline in global numbers of turtledoves.
Last year Malta had insisted on opening the spring hunting season and allow for the hunting of 5,000 turtledoves, despite calls from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which had placed the species on its red list, and the European Commission, which had warned at the time that Malta would have to justify its decision.
But when the country’s hunting lobbies this year proposed a moratorium on the spring hunting of the turtledove – to supposedly prove that Malta’s hunters are not responsible for the species decline in numbers – the government backed that call.
This move appears to have been motivated by one overriding concern: to avoid the permanent closure of the spring hunting season.
This suggests yet another close collaboration between the country’s main hunting lobby after the government received word that the European Commission is to open yet another round of infringement proceedings against Malta over the dubious practice. Such a move threatens to land Malta back at the European Court of Justice, where a ruling against Malta, which appears all the more likely given the status of the turtledove, would finally close the spring hunting season once and for all.
But more recent calls for the autumn hunting season to be suspended in light of mass illegalities have fallen on deaf government ears.
This newspaper has recently taken the chairman of the Ornis committee to task and asked him whether he feels the season ought to be suspended, and the predictable answer was a resounding ‘no comment’. We had gone to the Ornis chairman because the government had predictably placed the matter on his desk, but the decision to put an end to this autumn’s season appears to have fallen victim to the pass the buck back and forth game that we in the media are so well accustomed to.
The Prime Minister has every right to call an end to the season, as he did two springs back when a bird was shot dead right over a school playground.
What will it take for him to close this autumn’s season?
The government must, once and for all, give no quarter to these blatant lawbreakers and apply a zero tolerance policy to all forms of illegal hunting. After all, its credibility is on the line in more serious terms than merely facing another slap on the wrist or punitive fines from the European Court of Justice – illegal hunting is criminal and individuals cannot be allowed to run rampant and flout the law of the land with impunity.
If the government is to prove its mettle, it should immediately move to close the current autumn season, or at least suspend it until the migration of protected birds concludes, in the face of the illegalities that appear to be taking place on a near daily basis.
But, for some reason, the government appears to have no inclination whatsoever to do so.