Friday, 21 September 2012

IAR Malta to partner in international conference on long-distance live transport

International Animal Rescue has been invited to be the main co-partner in a conference to be held in Valletta, Malta on 28 September entitled ‘Animal Suffering in Long-Distance Transport: Ask John Dalli.’ International speakers from different professional backgrounds will gather to present the arguments in favour of the review of the present rules on live animal transport, from welfare, legal, veterinary and parliamentary perspectives.

Millions of live animals are transported over long distances on European roads, sometimes for several days, only to be killed on arrival. This huge amount of suffering can easily be avoided by killing the animals in the nearest slaughterhouse to the farm and then transporting their meat and carcasses.

The  8 hours campaign was launched jointly by Animals’ Angels – an international organisation which has documented hundreds of cases of severe suffering endured by animals transported on long-distance journeys – together with Danish MEP Dan Jørgensen. The aim of the initiative is to limit the transport of animals for the purpose of slaughter to no longer than 8 hours.

On 15 March, the European Parliament adopted Written Declaration 49/2011 – signed by 395 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) – which calls on the EU institutions to establish a maximum 8 hour limit on the journeys of animals transported for the purpose of slaughter.

On 7 June 2012, representatives of over 100 European animal welfare NGOs and MEPs across the political spectrum handed in 1,103,248 signatures to European Commissioner for Health and Consumers, John Dalli from Malta, who is responsible for animal welfare in the European Union.

In front of the cameras, Mr Dalli announced that “by 2014 the Commission will publish a legislative proposal”, which would include live transport and transport times. On the same occasion, the Commissioner admitted that “some species of animals require a much lower figure than 8 hours”.

A few days later, Mr Dalli denied that he had ever promised a review of the rules on transport, and had his staff affirm that enforcement of the present rules was enough. Some of those rules have been in place for over 20 years and have never been enforced. Mr Dalli has provided no explanation as to why such rules would start to be enforced now.

Some of the norms contained in the present legislation cannot possibly be enforced. In some cases, scientific evidence is available which according to the present rules should prompt an immediate review of Regulation 1/2005.

Animal welfare organisations and MEPs have decided to fight back, rejecting the Commission’s attempt to dismiss their demands as irrelevant. Animal welfare and the defence of citizens’ fundamental rights come together in this campaign to stop the easily avoidable suffering of millions of animals.

A full-page advert has been published in The Times of Malta – the main newspaper in Mr Dalli’s home country – informing the public that “John Dalli is disregarding the suffering of millions of animals and the voice of European citizens”. It ends by asking Maltese electors “to remember what is happening when you vote in future elections”.

The advert also announces the conference  which is taking place on 28 September. An invitation to the conference was sent to Commissioner Dalli too, and his office has announced his intention to participate. Changes to the programme will be made according to Mr Dalli’s availability.
The 8 hours campaign will continue through further actions in the institutions and among citizens, until a proper time limit is established for the journeys of animals destined for slaughter.

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Friday, 31 August 2012

Record number of bird guards to monitor hunting

The Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) has announced that it will send a record 32 bird guards to Malta and Gozo during the autumn hunting season this year. It also said it had offered a drone for use by the police to detect illegal hunting, but does not intend to use one itself this time - although CABS did use one earlier this year until it was shot down.

Volunteer bird guards

The bird guards will be volunteers from Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Poland, Rumania, UK and the USA.

"Operation 'Honey Buzzard' will take place at the peak of bird migration and volunteers will monitor the flight corridors and night roosts of birds of prey, storks and herons around the clock and report offences against hunting law to the police. Other tasks include the detection and checking of illegal clap nets and cage traps for trapping of Turtle Doves, Quails and protected wader species." CABS said that in order to provide evidence of illegalities for the police, each CABS team will be equipped with video cameras and high-performance spotting scopes.

"In addition CABS offered Police Commissioner John Rizzo the provision - at no cost to the police - of a remote-controlled model aircraft with high-definition video cameras and a qualified operator. This would greatly assist the ALE to detect illegal trapping sites, an important factor in the campaign against illegal trapping," CABS said. This offer was made to the police a month ago but no reply has been received yet.

"There are still two weeks to go and CABS hopes that the police will accept the offer.  CABS does not intend to use such a vehicle this time, pending the outcome of a Magisterial inquiry into their use in spring.

In spring this year CABS and the German TV station RTL were able to detect a number of illegal trapping installations by using a similar flying device.

Turtle dove
CABS said it welcomed the Maltese Government's decision once again to impose an afternoon hunting curfew for the last two weeks of September in an attempt to afford additional protection for the passage of birds of prey in this period. But they were 'appalled' by the recommendation of the Ornis Committee that the trapping of Golden Plover in clap nets should again be permitted this year. "In many parts of Europe the populations of this species have declined massively over the past few years and cannot therefore be sustainably hunted for the time being," states CABS Board Member David Conlin. CABS also points out that the use of clap nets, banned under the EU Bird Protection Guidelines, requires the issue of a so-called derogation. If Malta issues such a derogation it will with certainty be strictly scrutinised by the European Commission."

This autumn International Animal Rescue will continue its ten year collaboration with CABS in the fight against illegal shooting and trapping.

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Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Remote controlled aircraft gave bird’s eye view of illegal hunting and trapping in Malta

A remote controlled aircraft that was proving highly effective at detecting illegal hunting and trapping in Malta has been shot down. No wreckage has been found, even though the police were brought in to help with the search. It is believed that the aircraft, which was flying at about 80 metres, was shot at with a rifle, not a shot gun.

Hunting the poachers with the "Eye in the Sky"
Photo credit: CABS
Just before it was shot down the plane had detected a third illegal trapping site in just a few days. Although no one was spotted on the site of the shooting because of the type of terrain, as the controller turned the plane to get a better view of the trapping site a number of shots were heard and the aircraft disappeared. Footage taken by the plane was transmitted directly to the control pilot.

The German group Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) had used the plane for the first time this year in its battle against illegal bird hunting and trapping in Malta. It brought the plane out at the start of the CABS annual bird protection camp which is run with support and assistance from International Animal Rescue Malta.

Bird trapping installation at Delimara
 Photo credit: CABS
The plane was equipped with high definition cameras with live links to recorders on the ground. A Swiss pilot, who holds a world record for long-distance flying of such aircraft, was brought over to Malta to operate the aircraft which could fly up to 20 miles away from its pilot.

The aircraft had previously been shot at whilst scanning the sites at Delimara and been hit by a number of pellets. However it wasn’t badly damaged on that occasion and continued with its mission in the coming days.

CABS team monitoring the hunting
Photo credit: CABS
Axel Hirschfeld from CABS said an active trapping site had been detected near Bahrija and another 'huge' one near Delimara. Members of the Administrative Law Enforcement police (ALE) and also MEPA officials (Malta Environment Planning Authority) acted quickly, visiting the site at Delimara and viewing the footage. The ALE officials seized the trapping equipment and live protected bird species.

Police officials advised the CABS members not to fly the aircraft too low or in the vicinity of the airport. It was clearly a thorn in the flesh of the hunters and trappers who couldn’t hide their illegal activities from its bird’s eye view.

In the past three years CABS had had a lot of trouble with the hunters and there were cases where members of the group had been manhandled and had even had their cars damaged . In Malta it is very difficult to get access to certain sites, particularly where private property is concerned. It is also difficult to trace which land is or is not private property. It was because of these problems that CABS had decided to make use of a remote controlled aircraft to detect the illegalities.

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Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The EU keeps an eye on Malta as spring hunting season approaches

European Commission officials are expecting Malta to “stick strictly” to EU rules when it comes to the imminent spring hunting season and are keeping a watchful eye on the decisions the authorities are set to take in the coming days, according to a Commission spokesman in Brussels.

Peter Coller said that The European Commission is “closely following” the matter to ensure all the provisions of the Birds Directive and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling against Malta in 2009 will be respected.

The news comes as the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee this week decided to keep open all six anti-hunting petitions put on the meeting’s agenda.

The petitions, submitted by non-Maltese EU citizens, urge the Commission to “stop the slaughter and massacre of birds in Malta” during the migration season. The committee is keeping them active “awaiting developments”.

Maltese bird hunters
Peter Coller added that the ECJ’s judgement left open the possibility of a “limited spring hunting season” in Malta, so long as the directive’s provisions were respected. “With regard to this year’s possible spring hunting season, the Commission has already been informed that the Maltese government intends to follow the rules and procedures established by the ECJ”, he told MEPs on the committee.

Mr Coller said that, although the Commission was of the view that the general legislative framework in place in Malta was “a significant step forward”, it was evident more enforcement was needed to better supervise the strict conditions of the hunting season.
It is clear that there has been some progress in recent years in terms of enforcement and supervision, but there is still room for further improvement. This is also the opinion of International Animal Rescue in Malta.

On behalf of all petitioners, Jean Claude Larive from the Belgian Royal Society for the Protection of Birds took the Commission to task saying Maltese authorities were trying to “kid” the EU authorities on this issue.

“It appears Malta has no intention and no will to end the massacre of migratory birds. They are just trying to gain time and keep the hunters happy,” he claimed.

“We are asking the Commission to be very firm with Malta on this issue and ensure it abides by all its undertakings,” he said.

Although no details have been released on this year’s spring hunting season, the issue is already heating up, with a number of environmental groups accusing the government of trying to appease the hunting lobby by relaxing the strict rules of last year’s limited hunting season.

In 2011, the government allowed a limited hunting season between April 13 and 30 with a maximum hunting quota of 2,500 quails and 9,000 turtle doves. Hunters were only allowed to catch one bird a day and to send an SMS to the authorities every time they caught a bird.

In a press statement BirdLife Malta stated that Ornis Committee chairman Louis Cilia was this year proposing the spring quota be set at the maximum permissible number for turtle doves and quail; the extension of the season by three days compared to 2011; and the complete removal of the daily bag limits previously established as a strict supervision condition.

In view of these proposals, International Animal Rescue Malta is in full support of BirdLife Malta’s call for Mr Cilia to resign. Alternattiva Demokratika, the Maltese Green Party is also insiting that he should resign. Mr Cilia stated yesterday that he is prepared to resign only if asked to do so by the Government.

A government official would only state that the government has not yet taken a decision on the Ornis recommendations.

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Friday, 2 March 2012

EU Commissioner warns Malta against bird trapping

Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potocnik has informed the Malta government that there is no reason to allow bird trapping to continue in Malta and threatened to take the country back in front of the European Court of Justice if it isn’t stopped.

Malta has two months to reply to his Reasoned Opinion. A failure to comply means the Commission may refer the case to the EU Court of Justice.

Song birds in cages are used as decoys
The Commission explained that in Europe, most wild birds are protected under the Birds Directive, and trapping with large-scale or non-selective methods of capture such as nets is generally prohibited and may only be legally practised under a derogation from the Directive. Such exceptions may only be granted if there is no viable alternative, if the Member State respects the strict conditions and requirements laid down in Article 9 of the Directive, and if it can prove to the Commission that it has done so.

In June 2011 the Commission sent Malta a letter of formal notice, in which it aired its concern regarding the incorrect application of derogations allowing bird trapping. The Commission confirmed that Malta had failed to submit sufficient evidence to prove that its trapping derogations respected all the necessary conditions of the Directive. It mentioned in particular the rules relating to “ensuring only small numbers of birds are captured”; “selective targeting of the species concerned by the derogation”, and “strict supervision of trapping conditions.”

In its reply the Maltese Government refuted the Commission's claims and insisted that the conditions for the application of the derogation were met. In 2011 Malta also changed the derogation so that it applied to only one species, the Song Thrush. However, the Commission is still of the opinion that Malta has failed to produce satisfactory supporting evidence and has applied the derogations incorrectly.

The Malta Government continues to argue against the claims, saying it will reply to the Reasoned Opinion and will also continue to engage in discussions with the Commission.

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Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Italian police seize exotic birds bound for Malta

Italian police recently arrested three men in Catania on the eastern coast of Sicily and charged them with attempting to smuggle 200 endangered exotic birds out of Sicily to Malta.

Two of the suspects are Italian and the third is a Maltese truck driver. Reports from Italy say the police confiscated 200 birds, mainly small species worth more than 1000 euros in total.

Once the men had been charged the birds were handed over to a wildlife rescue centre in Sicily. In due course they will be released in a wildlife refuge.

It’s a well known fact that in the past a lot of song bird species were illegally imported from Sicily, Tunisia and the UK. Such species are mainly used as decoys on trapping sites during the trapping season. Since trapping for song birds in Malta is restricted to a number of species, such birds are in great demand.

According to the investigators, these species are sold illegally in Malta, with prices varying from 180 euros to 350 euros each.

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And the winner is....

This year’s IAR Malta animal welfare award went to Shauna Vassallo, an eleven year old student from St Thomas More College at Santa Lucija, Malta. As well as being an animal welfare campaigner, Shauna is also a singer. She has successfully participated in local festivals with her song ‘Fejn’ which is about the suffering of abandoned animals. During 2011 Shauna also participated in a number of protests in Malta to raise awareness of animal issues. At the beginning and end of the protests Shauna would reinforce the message by singing her song. On one occasion she insisted on taking part, even though she was feeling unwell.

IAR Malta picked Shauna from a shortlist of four and notified the headmistress of her school that one of her students was the winner. The award was presented at the school which helped to raise even greater awareness among the pupils.

It came as a complete surprise to Shauna when the headmistress called her out during morning assembly in front of 600 students and all the teachers. When she found out that she had won the award, Shauna reacted with joy and disbelief!

IAR Malta Chairman Max Farrugia explained to all those present the purpose of the award and explained that Shauna had been awarded the trophy for her constant support for animal rights in Malta by singing and participating in local events, two of which had been organised by WEEACE (Malta) (World Events to End Animal Cruelty) and also for promoting animal awareness among her school mates and friends. After the presentation Shauna sang a piece of her beautiful song Fejn. When asked what the award meant to her, she said that she had never expected anything for the modest amount she does to promote animal welfare. She added that it was a very special award and she would treasure it all her life.

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Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Pipistrelle bat found down and out in Bugibba

Whilst out walking in the cold sunny weather in Bugibba, a British tourist from Devon came across a pipistrelle bat lying on the pavement. It isn’t normal for a bat to be found on the ground, in daylight. The tourist, Mr Andrew Bessford, picked up the bat, put it in a warm piece of cloth and took it with him to his hotel. With the help of the receptionist at the hotel Mr Bessford found out about International Animal Rescue in Malta and travelled all the way from Bugibba to our centre in Hamrun to bring us the bat.

Luckily the bat is in good condition. We’ll keep it under observation for a few days and then release it in an area where we know there are similar species. Bats are nocturnal and the chances are that someone disturbed this bat in his daytime habitat. If it wasn’t for Mr Bessford the bat would certainly have died, mainly owing to the lack of food in the area and also as a result of the weather.

Mr J J Borg, Chairperson of the Malta Bats Society, says that the small species of bats - of which we have four in Malta - appear to be stable in number, although bats in general are still threatened. According to Mr Borg some hunters still shoot these mammals in the Girgenti and Lunzjata Valley. A problem which is also threatening these bats is the restoration of bastions, chapels found in rural churches and other old buildings.

I would like to personally thank Mr Bessford for bringing the bat to us and also for rescuing and reporting a baby rabbit he also found whilst out walking. If any tourists find animals in need whilst in Malta or spot any illegal wildlife activity we ask that they call our 24 hour emergency helpline on +356 (0) 994 71212.

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