Foreign bird lovers give Malta stern warning

To: undisclosed-recipients: ;
Subject: Foreign bird lovers give Malta stern warning
From: "david camilleri" <>
Date: Mon, 28 Jan 2002 12:32:43 -0500
The swans have hopefully not died in vain (see the whole story in the
final articles online; with the sad 3 ACTION PHOTOS of the eight Swan killers at

< >

Monday, January 28, 2002

< Foreign bird lovers give Malta stern warning >
by Herman Grech

376 sign letter

No fewer than 376 foreign environmentalists and bird lovers have written in to The Times urging the government to act against the slaughter of birds unless the
islands wanted to be known as the "killing fields of Europe".

Political parties must be made to realise that kowtowing to a loud, but
non-representative and brutal minority, would not bring electoral success, David
Conlin wrote on behalf of Proact International, a German-based organisation
which raised the signatures.

Proact is a non-political, independent organisation committed to coordinating
and monitoring support for selected environmental campaigns in Europe.

The signatories, who hailed from countries as diverse as Mexico, Norway,
Australia and the Ukraine, were prompted to write-in following the massacre of eight mute swans at St Thomas Bay on January 20. The signatures were raised via
the organisation's website.

The slaughter, carried out in full view of an astonished number of people,
prompted a nationwide debate, with scores of individuals and environmental
organisations calling on the government to embark on a concerted effort to
eradicate illegal hunting.

On Saturday, Birdlife Malta released shocking pictures of the killing of the

The swan has for centuries symbolised purity, faithfulness and grace and the
brutal execution of such creatures would "once again defy the belief of a St
Thomas", Mr Conlin said.

"It is perfectly legitimate for foreigners to express concern about the
despoliation of a shared heritage," he said.

He said it was in the long-term interests of Malta to allocate resources and
implement policies which would further the all-important tourism economy.

"The future of eco-tourism, visitors who will pay real money to see your birds,
wildlife and natural beauty, is increasing. Other more traditional
'sun-tourists' are also increasingly shocked by the outdated and barbaric
practices which greet them in Malta or are reported in their national media.

"It's not yet too late Malta, but the future of the islands, and a great deal of
the natural avian heritage of Europe, lies in your own hands."

Contacted in Germany, Mr Conlin said the bird-hunting issue in Malta was of
concern because of the island's geographical location which lured thousands of
migratory birds.

He pointed out that Proact International recently campaigned against the hunting lobby in Cyprus, especially after a Cypriot restaurant in London was last week
charged with serving little birds.

When contacted, Environment Minister Francis Zammit Dimech said that
government's priority was to enforce the existing hunting regulations, though it was willing to discuss the introduction of new stricter measures should the need

"I believe we have to strike the right balance. We want to respect hunting as a tradition, but we have to drive the message home that hunters cannot go about
flouting the law," Dr Zammit Dimech said.

The minister said he had been in touch with Police Commissioner John Rizzo over
the past few days in connection with the issue of illegal hunting.

The home affairs and environment ministries had often worked hand in hand in an
attempt to create effective enforcement procedures, he said.

The Environment Monitoring Board, consisting of police, Birdlife and hunters'
organisations, had been set up with this specific intention in mind.

Dr Zammit Dimech defended the police's track record by saying that the number of
hunters brought to justice for flouting the laws was higher than ever.

Asked whether government was prepared to increase the hunting penalties, the
minister cautiously replied that these were quite harsh, especially since they included imprisonment and the confiscation of all means used to carry out the
illegal activity.

One had to keep in mind that the three hunters apprehended for Sunday's incident
were charged in court under arrest, he said.

Dr Zammit Dimech said he preferred to focus on education rather than, say,
revising the hunters' licences.

"Sadly, there are still some hunters who think they can get away with it and
should illegal hunting prevail, despite the clear conditions set, then we are
prepared to introduce stricter measures."

On Friday, Din l-Art Helwa urged government to increase substantially the annual
licences for carrying a shotgun for hunting.

A licence for a shotgun to shoot on land costs Lm12 a year and to shoot at sea,


This article may also be viewed at


Web posted on January 28, 2002 at 09:00:00 CET

Act before it?s too late

It has taken the tragic and very public slaying of mute swans ? in front of innocent children ? to finally arouse widespread local disgust and unite many Maltese in condemnation of the barbaric extent to which hunters on Malta will go. The European Mute Swan, with its pure white colouring, gracefulness and highly developed and visible social and family characteristics, has been afforded a high degree of protection, and often royal patronage, long before environmental consciousness began to develop in our societies. Swans have played a number of important roles in mythology and in varying cultural forms; their latest role is sadly as martyr for the cause of bird protection on Malta. To anyone who follows such developments on Malta, and it is a growing number worldwide as such stories hit the media, the swan bloodbath in St Thomas? Bay is only the sad and inevitable consequence of the lack of political will to give a high priority to stamping out the illegal trapping and hunting faction who terrorise the natural world and demolish ancient monuments. To many it is amazing that the islands can support any form of hunting, let alone all those registered hunters, without eventually exterminating all but species specifically reared for killing; but your own ecologists on the islands will know best. Unfortunately their warnings have often been ignored in the past; and the blustering of the FKNK in a vain attempt to disassociate themselves from their lunatic fringe has hindered rather than helped matters. The signatories to this letter are politically and nationally independent and have no quarrel with the Maltese people. All of us would like nothing better than to visit an island paradise in the Mediterranean and enjoy its natural beauty and quiet; but will avoid the cultural and natural desert which a small, vociferous and crude minority is busily creating. Nor are we busybodies interfering in the internal affairs of your country. Most of us are Europeans, as the Maltese de facto are ? and will soon de jure be ? we hope. The problem of dwindling European bird populations is therefore one that affects us all in the medium and long term. Our plea to the people of Malta and your politicians to put a stop to this mindless massacre of other creatures was triggered by appeals for support from your own conservationists; and for many of us bitter personal experience on your islands. Birds have no boundaries; regrettably they have far too few advocates on this planet. At the end of the day only the people of Malta can stand up and vote with their voice, and ballot paper, to finally put a stop to this unnecessary haemorrhage of your cultural and natural heritage. We hope that they act soon... before it?s too late.

David Conlin
Proact International


Swan lake massacre: Open letter to President Guido de Marco

I read in the press that Maltese hunters killed half a dozen Mute Swans. It is not the first time that we have heard about the slaughter of wildlife, which in our country is protected. I can only condemn this particularly brutal and unnecessary killing. It is, for me, a clear reason not to visit your beautiful and historically interesting country. I think that a country that can not stop these killings does not belong in the European Union. May I propose to your government to enact harsher penalties, including custodial sentences for illegal hunting and trapping, and that police manpower and resources be increased to tackle the problem. I cannot understand how people can say that this barbaric and outmoded hunting is a ?sport?.

Geert Van Damme

Denderbelle (Lebbeke), Belgium

Hunting: the great untruth

Harry Vassallo

"They should be executed in public" was the reaction of an eyewitness to the killing of swans in St Thomas Bay last Sunday. That expression of pain and outrage was echoed across Europe and quoted in newspapers as far away as Scotland.

To be blessed by the sight of wild birds having the grace and majesty of swans in a place so afflicted by environmental mismanagement, was a once-in-a-lifetime gift. The birds were killed, the witnesses were raped. The swan killers themselves would have been in great danger had any of the witnesses been armed.

Because of the public outrage we can expect the miscreants to receive the full penalty allowed by law: a Lm500 fine, confiscation of the boat, suspension of shooting licence. On confirmation of guilt, the hunters' associations will be challenged to co-operate in denying the offenders' approval for the issue or renewal of a hunting licence. It will change nothing.

Bird lovers may be unable to appreciate that the killing of swans is a violation also of hunters who have always had a code of conduct. I come from a hunting family. My commitment to the environment comes from several seasons acting as my father's retriever. I soon had enough of bloodied, tattered birds in the throes of agony. The love of the countryside and an interest in living things remained.

I have cherished memories of the friendly banter across the marble-topped tables of village coffee shops, the sound of town and country Maltese easily mingled in a debate about the weather or in reminiscing about the glorious bag of yesteryear. The swan killers would have been misfits there also. It would have been unthinkable to my father to shoot a swan. He would have had nothing but contempt for anyone who did.

That was 40 years ago. In the meantime the politics of hunting changed. Nobody dreamt that the laudable efforts of MOS (now BirdLife) would bring about the cohesion of the grab-bag of individualists who called themselves hunters. Who'd ever dream that hunting would ever become a political issue, a crucial political issue? Nothing would seem more bizarre to the hunters I knew than a description of today's politics.

A vast majority of the Maltese, 60 per cent of a 5,000-person sample in a Planning Authority survey, want the hunters brought to heel. A majority unattainable by the hysterics of party propaganda rejected the concessions made to hunters in terms of the agreement signed by the PN with the hunters' associations prior to the 1998 elections. A vast majority ignored.

The 1996 electoral campaign reversed the life quality gains made by bird lovers, environmentalists and by the whole population. Regardless of the blurb in electoral manifestoes since 1987, the environment was rudely shoved aside as the MLP went for the prize. Hunters would have all their dreams come true if the MLP were elected.

On the day after a stunned PN realised that the hunting issue had been miscalculated (along with VAT and its income tax implications) the environment dropped like a hot brick from their agendas. By the 1998 election campaign, the hunters' associations had stitched up both parties represented in Parliament.

It was a national humiliation exposing the depth to which we had sunk ensnared in the insane logic of two party politics. Hunting is an irrelevance, democracy is the ideological foundation for our common political existence. Democracy was defeated again in 1998.

The two parties in Parliament are unable to share any common ground. Their price is absolute power for five years and they'll trade anything for it. They have no choice: it's the institutional arithmetic of a pure two-party system. Today it's hunting and public land at Armier. Tomorrow it could be anything at all. Nothing is too bizarre.

In a civilised Malta political parties would have a bond in honour not to exploit issues which threaten the foundations of their legitimacy. Hunting exposes the contrary reality. Armier confirms it and we are left to wonder what else burdens the bottom line in the electoral invoices of the other two parties. What other pre-election deals are struck, what other democratic obscenities can be digested by our rivals?

Only AD - the Green Party speaks this way. All others cloak the prostitution of democracy in elaborate rationalizations and the wisdom pearls of scoffing pragmatism. The brokering of the BirdLife-hunters deal was hailed as a major achievement. It cheats everyone. The hunters are lulled into the belief that they can always defeat the will of the vast majority of the Maltese. BirdLife was forced into a compromise that alienates its following and threatens its international standing. The country confirms its scepticism of anything stated by anyone in politics. Untruth reigns supreme.

In this atmosphere aberrations attempt to become the norm. The swan killers must have killed buzzards, harriers, owls, gulls, skylarks and swallows, for fun, for years and with total impunity. They use boats, automatic guns, illegal ammunition, electronic lures and all the wonders of modern technology to blast whatever comes their way.

No government, no political party that erodes the foundations of its own legitimacy can convince the ignorant, the uneducated and the newly affluent politcally oppressed that they have a need to observe the law in their own interest. The social contract is a sham. The law is there to be cheated. The swan killers mimic politicians in the art of the possible. The swan killers are not to blame. They have been corrupted by their mentors.

Here comes the EU referendum. It will be the apotheosis of Maltese politics. A moment of vast national importance binding our homeland and the future of our children's children to the future of the growing major player in our region will be decided not by open debate, not by informed decision not by sober reflection, but by the aberrant swan killers. Whether or not Malta will move closer to the social, political, cultural, economic and environmental heartland of its reality hinges on the whims of the democratically depraved.

Long before all this my father hung up his gun and gave up the pastime of his ancestors. Years later he spoke to me of hunting as an absurdity, an intolerable contradiction for a free person in an age in which extinction proceeds globally at a rate never seen before.

Hunting had been a shared history, not a cause of friction between us. He had taught me all he knew of birds, the weather, wild plants and animals, how much of the countryside had disappeared before my time and what a wonderful place Malta had been in his youth. He taught me the Roman dictum that we are slaves of the law in order to be free.

I could never have called for my father to be executed in public. He would never have provoked the outburst. He joined the Green Party in 1989 and shared our battles until his death. An ex-hunter and a civilised man, he shared our concern for the country's future threatened by the institutional logic of a two-party political system. We have two rivals but only one enemy: the two-party system.

Just as the depraved sense the hypocrisy of official institutions and justify their own aberrations, the vast majority have begun to sense the precarious state of the intricate untruth which passes for politics in Malta. The bubble is about to burst. It takes only a few hundred people to give the country a breath of fresh air. Two-thirds of the country wants a radical reform it can only achieve through the Green Party. It is only the untruth of partisan television that holds us back: a bubble.

Soon we will allow the country to breathe freely again. We will free our rivals from the logic that traps them in the untruth game and allow them to give their best to the country. Soon we will change the face of this wonderful could-have-been-country simply by our presence in parliament. Among other things we will preside over the extinction of hunting in Malta.

Dr Vassallo is chairman of Alternattiva Demokratika - the Green Party.

david camilleri

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