In Malta, legal loopholes give poachers cover to hunt migratory birds

In Malta, legal loopholes give poachers cover to hunt migratory birds

Within a day of arriving on the Mediterranean island of Malta on their southbound migration last August, three of 18 white storks were shot and killed by poachers. Less than two weeks later, just one of the birds was left alive. By Aug. 29, 19 days since the flock arrived, all of the birds had disappeared. Malta is a stopping-off point for some 170 species of birds from at least 48 different countries migrating between Europe and Africa. The vast majority of these birds, including white storks (Ciconia ciconia) and black storks (Ciconia nigra), are strictly protected under the European Union’s Birds Directive of 1972. But in Malta, poachers kill or capture up to 200,000 wild birds every year: shooting them for food, taxidermy or simply target practice, or trapping them to keep as pets or live hunting decoys. Black stork in flight. Image by מינוזיג – MinoZig via Wikimedia Commons (CC By-SA 4.0). Across the wider Mediterranean, poachers kill and trap between 11 million and 36 million birds annually in 26 different countries. Between 5.5 million and 14.5 million of these birds are poached in nine EU member states, including Malta, Italy, France and Cyprus — countries with comprehensive bird conservation laws that ostensibly prohibit the killing or capture of migratory species, similar to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of the United States. In Malta, shooting of protected species can lead to fines of more than 10,000 euros ($11,500) and the loss of hunting licenses, with prison sentences for…

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