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