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Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Shameful illegal killing of birds in Malta

Naturalist Chris Packham is in the news, having been interviewed by police in Malta regarding the filming of his self-funded YouTube programme exposing the illegal killing of exotic birds that arrive over the islands. Tens of thousands have viewed the item; there are about 10,000 hunters in Malta killing or trapping migratory birds; the hunting lobby is strong and resorts to intimidation or worse; there's a petition of over 44,000 Maltese seeking an investigation into this flagrant flouting of EU law. There is much to love and admire about Malta - but definitely not this.

Montagu's Harrier -Wikipedia commons -
one of several species of birds slaughtered

His article in the Guardian is worth reading: here

This report here states: “In April 2008 the European Court of Justice ordered the Maltese government not to allow Spring hunting and in January 2009 trapping should be illegal too, when a derogation allowed when Malta joined the EU in 2004 expires.  Even with these activities illegal, enforcement is poor and political will to act against illegal activities is weak.” [My italics] And this is why Chris Packham felt impelled to go and help the bird lovers of BirdLife Malta.

I highlighted this very thing in my novel Death is Another Life (now out of print, awaiting a new publisher): 

Count Zondadari was tall, with a patrician nose and high cheekbones. He had a high receding hairline that suggested intelligence and dark arched eyebrows. The laughter lines around his sensual mouth and flint-gray eyes softened his appearance. Those eyes shone, as if amused by life. Here was a man with supreme confidence, someone who lived life to the full. There was something other-worldly about him; oddly, she was reminded of Wilde’s Dorian Gray.

The two-story villa was squat and long, the walls constructed from a variety of stonework. “This plot of land has been in my family since the 1560s.” He waved his walking stick in an arc. Prince watched obediently, alert. “We’ve tended to rebuild here and there, as the mood dictated, yet we have tried to preserve the features we like – hence the porch.” It was imposing, a pillared portico, with curving marble steps leading up to the heavy oak panelled door which sported large brass ornamentation and a fish-shaped door-knocker.

“It’s beautiful,” Maria said and meant it. The stone walls, dun and drab, were haphazardly clothed in creepers, bougainvillea and begonia. The green of leaves was a striking contrast, and softened the privations of time. The Arabic designed stonework round the roof and windows seemed to blend with nature. The place appealed to her artistic eye. “The blossom will be absolutely gorgeous in a few weeks,” she added.
“Yes.” He smiled down at her. “Some of the stonework is sixteenth century, so it seems to be rejuvenated every year when the flowers bloom. The place really comes alive then.”

It could have been a trick of light, as they climbed the steps, but she thought his face had darkened momentarily, the shine inexplicably absent from his eyes at the mention of nature’s renewal. And the scar-tissue glowed red. But she could have imagined it – her imagination seemed to be on overtime these days.
As they approached it, the door opened silently: but no-one was there. Her step faltered.

And he noticed. “My family may be ancient, but we keep up with the times. I’m not averse to hi-tech, Miss Caruana. Computerized video identifies me and opens the door. Simple, really.”
The entrance hall was spacious, tiled in arabesques. She welcomed the coolness here, in contrast to the heat outside.
“This is simply gorgeous,” Maria said. “Can I do a ‘Better Homes’ article?”

Count Zondadari smiled and pointed to the corner opposite the door where an elliptical staircase began: “That was designed by Gerolamo Cassar in 1586. He tried the design here then made a larger version for the Verdala Palace.” An aspidistra looked quite at home in the shadows beneath the stairs.

Maria made suitably impressed noises.
Panelled doors were on both sides and a passageway led off to their right. Prince the dog loped past them down the passage.
“The kitchen calls, I suspect!” he chuckled and opened the nearest double-door on the left. He ushered Maria into a lounge appointed with luxurious furniture, paintings and sculpture.

As they kept moving, she had little opportunity to study anything, but gleaned an impression of stolidity, of antiquity and repose, the whole room redolent of a more leisurely era: restful and full of peace.
Instinctively, she felt he was an art-lover, that these artefacts were not merely investments or brazen advertisements of his wealth. She would have preferred to linger. “It must have taken an age to acquire so many beautiful things.”
“Yes, quite a while,” he smiled. “But please, call me Michael,” he said, bowing slightly. He guided her through the room and slid open a patio door.
As she stepped out after him, the barrier of warm air was quite startling, even oppressive after the fresh atmosphere inside. Her reaction was a slight surprise since it was not unusual for her to move from an air-conditioned office to the heat of the day or vice versa, and took the temperature changes in her stride. Maybe her senses were too highly attuned today.
Grass and cedars bordered the patio. An intricate wrought-iron long table stood on the stone flags, the top inlaid wood blocks forming a mosaic of Neptune and his sea-horses, all covered by tinted glass. There were high-backed chairs at each end.
They both leaned on the balustrade facing the sea.
About fifteen meters away, the cliffs’ irregular shape sliced into the Mediterranean. This part of the island, the land tended to step gradually down to the rock-strewn surf-line, yet for this particular section it was as though a fissure had opened and land had tumbled into the sea, leaving forbidding steep cliffs. To the right she could just glimpse St. Paul’s islands.

Maria noticed a few specks of movement in the cloudless blue and raised her binoculars.
“A flock of sparrows,” he said, squinting in their direction. “Foolish creatures, they’re swerving away and heading for the islands.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “It really saddens me to think we’ve killed all our own native birds.”
“Indeed. The hunting season may be short, but it’s devastating. Only unwary visitors fly here, now, Maria. It fits, though, for such a place – with its prehistory of curious death-oriented religion.”

- Death is Another Life, pp84-87

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