The very public battle between environmentalists (in the form of BirdLife Malta–they’ve got a pretty slick website) and Maltese hunters (represented by the Federation for Hunting and, er, Conservation) has fascinated me for months. I’ve written before about the tradition of hunting in Malta, and how it’s coming into increased conflict with tourism, a greener ethos and European Union regulations.
The main problem is that the hunters are shamelessly indiscriminate in which birds they shoot. They’re only legally permitted to shoot two species–turtle doves and quails. Instead, they blaze away at the many migratory (and sometimes endangered) birds that stop off on Malta. The evidence of transgressions is incontrovertible, and regularly appears on the front page of the papers.
Recently, a group of German birdwatchers came to visit the island and monitor the recently opened autumn hunt, legally and in consultation with local authorities. They got plenty of local press, and the hunters didn’t handle the extra attention well:
- First, the Germans witnessed the shooting of endangered raptors, and apparently caught incidents on video.
- The hunters responded by hurling insults and pointing a shotgun at the birdwatchers. A particularly insightful barb: “Nazis, go home!”
- Then a couple of birdwatchers were struck by lead shot.
- Finally, the hunters sabotaged the birdwatchers’ camp with bird corpses, cow dung and broken glass.
A PR Nightmare
Boy, am I glad I’m not handling the PR for the hunters. That’d be a nightmare. They’re totally incompetent at self-regulation, and their only excuse (which gets less compelling every time they use it) is that the illegal hunting is isolated to a few individuals.
I’ve said this before, but the hunters need to play the environmental card. They need to become the Ducks Unlimited of Malta, and work with environmental agencies to preserve ‘green’ (it’s often more brown than green here) space and, therefore, their hobby. And, obviously, they need to stop shooting the wrong kinds of birds.
I’m no expert, but it seems to me that the hunters are getting dragged inexorably into the 21st century of a developed nation. Malta is the densest country in Europe, and there’s a decreasing amount of space and tolerance for indiscriminate shooting.
The current government seems to be all about tourism and technology innovation. European tourists have little patience for hunting, or for potentially getting shot while wandering around the countryside. Tellingly, the government shut down the spring hunting season after just two weeks.
This afternoon I’m going to make a donation to BirdLife Malta, and see if they need any volunteer help. Think locally, and all that.