Malta Independent

Only one stork left, BirdLife Malta representa­tive says while suspecting the rest were killed

- Kevin Schembri Orland

Only one of the 18 storks recently reported to have been roosting in Malta is now left, BirdLife Malta conservati­on manager Nicholas Barbara has told The Malta Independen­t.

According to a statement issued by the NGO earlier this month, three of the flock’s white storks – which had first been spotted in Gozo – were shot down on 10 August.

Barbara said that four storks had been killed in and around Dingli within hours of their arrival. In the days that followed, the birds migrated to a number of localities, including Żebbuġ, eventually appearing in Magħtab, by which time their numbers had dwindled to just six.

Last Saturday, only four of those storks appeared to have survived but now, Barbara says, only one is left.

Asked what he believed had happened, the conservati­on manager said the organisati­on suspected illegal hunting to have led to the flock’s decimation.

“Unfortunat­ely, they didn’t stay in one place. At night they would alight in safe spots, such as on cranes, but during the day they would move around, probably in search of water sources in private fields, and we suspect they were killed.”

“It is worrying that these offences still occur in 2018, especially given that the fine for killing storks was raised to €5,000 in 2014 following a similar incident in Magħtab.”

“It seems hunters feel emboldened by the lack of strict enforcemen­t. The fines are there and are a deterrent, but nothing will happen until enforcemen­t is sufficient. On the day the storks began being killed, we had to wait around 70 minutes next to a dead stork until the police showed up. It seems the enforcemen­t set-up is not equipped to deal with such things, and there are more people ready to hunt these birds than there are law enforcemen­t officers ready to react.”

Storks were not only protected under Maltese law, but also given special status, Barbara explained, adding that the species was rare to the islands.

While two hunters had been charged with offences relating to the illegal hunting of storks, he said, the birds were still sought by taxidermy hobbyists.

On 13 August, a man accused of shooting down white storks was denied bail, while two days later Parliament­ary Secretary Clint Camilleri wrote on Facebook that another man had been arrested in connection with the slaughter of two more storks in Magħtab.

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