PROACT MALTA BULLETINS 2001
Arrests for Import of Bird Skins
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1. Article in the 'Times of Malta' 14 April 2001

Four held over imports of protected bird skins

Four Maltese men were held by the police after the airport Customs anti-drug squad found them in possession of some 100 skins of protected birds and one live as they arrived from Yemen via Cairo on Thursday, the police said.
In a search at the home of one of the suspects later on, the police Administrative Law Enforcement unit found some 500 other dead protected birds of different species. The police said that the four men, whose age ranges from 24 to 50, were intercepted by the Customs officers at the airport when they were found in possession of the birds which were ready to be stuffed. They had arrived at about 7.30 a.m. from Cairo after having visited Yemen. The Customs officers handed over the case to the police who followed up investigations by carrying the search at the house of one of the four men in Kirkop.
Police sources said the bird species seized at the airport included several eagles, vultures, a young owl taken from the nest, which was still alive, exotic kingfishers and bee eaters. The dead birds were sealed at customs pending criminal action.

The sources said in the home search, the police found the carcases sealed in freezers. The bulk of birds found in the man's residence were birds of prey and included honey buzzards, harriers, osprey, vultures as well as herons, spoonbills and ibises, the sources said. The sources said that investigations revealed that the man was a taxidermist who had been previously convicted of taxidermy offences.

The police also found documents indicating the prices he used to charge clients to stuff and mount birds as well as a list of people he worked for, the sources said. According to the sources, the police also found that he was operating a hunting shop without a licence. The four men are expected to be charged in court shortly.

Magistrate Carol Peralta appointed a team of experts to help in an inquiry. Inspector Alex P. Miruzzi and officers from the Administrative Law Enforcement unit are investigating.

2. Article in the 'Times of Malta' 16 April 2001

"Until this week the main danger that we were expecting was from the elements. No one expected this cultural terrorism" - Education minister

Four Maltese men were held by the police after the airport Customs anti-drug squad found them in possession of some 100 skins of protected birds and one live as they arrived from Yemen via Cairo on Thursday, the police said.
In a search at the home of one of the suspects later on, the police Administrative Law Enforcement unit found some 500 other dead protected birds of different species. The police said that the four men, whose age ranges from 24 to 50, were intercepted by the Customs officers at the airport when they were found in possession of the birds which were ready to be stuffed. They had arrived at about 7.30 a.m. from Cairo after having visited Yemen. The Customs officers handed over the case to the police who followed up investigations by carrying the search at the house of one of the four men in Kirkop.
Police sources said the bird species seized at the airport included several eagles, vultures, a young owl taken from the nest, which was still alive, exotic kingfishers and bee eaters. The dead birds were sealed at customs pending criminal action.

The sources said in the home search, the police found the carcases sealed in freezers. The bulk of birds found in the man's residence were birds of prey and included honey buzzards, harriers, osprey, vultures as well as herons, spoonbills and ibises, the sources said. The sources said that investigations revealed that the man was a taxidermist who had been previously convicted of taxidermy offences.

The police also found documents indicating the prices he used to charge clients to stuff and mount birds as well as a list of people he worked for, the sources said. According to the sources, the police also found that he was operating a hunting shop without a licence. The four men are expected to be charged in court shortly.

Magistrate Carol Peralta appointed a team of experts to help in an inquiry. Inspector Alex P. Miruzzi and officers from the Administrative Law Enforcement unit are investigating.

2. Article in the 'Times of Malta' 17 April 2001

The police yesterday interrogated 12 bird trappers in connection with their investigations.

The police yesterday interrogated 12 bird trappers in connection with their investigations into the rampant vandalism at Mnajdra temple, as the government brought in the police and army to help in security there and other heritage sites.

Education and National Culture Minister Louis Galea said the police and the army had been deployed to provide security at Mnajdra and other national heritage monuments.

"The country has so far not been sufficiently aware of the inestimable value of national heritage sites such as Mnajdra and Hagar Qim," Dr Galea said when speaking in the context of security at a news conference yesterday.

Some 60 megaliths in the 5,000 year old three-temple complex were wantonly toppled in the attack, believed to have been committed late on Friday evening. As condemnation and calls for security poured in from various quarters, President Guido de Marco visited the site yesterday, describing what had happened as "a crime against civilisation". "This was an act against the Maltese people as a whole," the President remarked. Dr Galea said the country had to date also not been aware enough of how important the conservation of these monuments was in relation to the economic well-being of the country. The minister said he believed that the "savage attack" had been perpetrated after the government had shown it meant business when it came to the enforcement of the law. He did not specify.

"The wanton destruction is neither a philosophical nor a religious statement," he said. He said that with immediate effect and until electricity and proper monitoring equipment were put into place at Mnajdra, the site would be manned and supervised 24 hours a day. A roster of security guards was being prepared for round the clock supervision, he said. When asked how many guards the Museums Department had, Anthony Pace, museums director, said the department had 70 watchmen who would be deployed as guards. Yesterday, acting prime minister Lawrence Gonzi called a meeting which included the participation of Dr Galea, Tourism Minister Michael Refalo and Home Affairs Minister Tonio Borg. The discussion focused on what immediate security measures could be adopted for heritage sites. Yesterday the police interrogated 12 trappers as part of their intensive investigations, led by assistant commissioner John Rizzo. Mnajdra was once again closed to visitors yesterday, with some wondering why they were being barred access and others demanding that they be refunded part of the Lm1 fee they paid to visit Hagar Qim and Mnajdra.

Yesterday forensic police were seen scouring the ground within and outside the temple, searching for clues. Dr Galea said the government had put the protection and conservation of national heritage sites at the top of its agenda - and not after the disastrous intrusion by vandals last week, he was quick to add - when asked by a reporter to say since when national heritage sites had been marked top priority. The minister said he was close to finalising the drafting of a bill for the protection and conservation of national monuments which will replace the Antiquities Act , enacted about 75 years ago The bill, which the minister said would probably be presented to parliament at the beginning of summer, would provide for harsher penalties than the current maximum six months imprisonment for those harming the national heritage.

The minister told The Times on Sunday that he had expected harm to the megalithic temples to come from the elements, and not from humans. However, a reporter pointed out to him yesterday that harm from humans should have been expected because there had been threats and actual cases of vandalism on these temples for the past 10 years and the government should have maintained strict surveillance of these sites. Replying, the minister said the reports compiled by experts which the ministry had commissioned put the harm from the elements as the main enemy to watch out for.

The reporter asked also why the Museums Department had not ensured there was 24 hours surveillance after the Planning Authority issued 20 stop and enforcement notices two weeks ago against people who had illegally occupied parcels of land and built stone hides used for trapping song birds .Dr Galea said the discussions currently being held as well as the bill being drafted would also focus on better communication and coordination between government departments and other bodies.

Mnajdra lies about 500 metres away from Hagar Qim, another prehistoric temple. The garigue in between the temples has been scheduled by the Planning Authority as aClass A site of archaeological importance. This means that no structure can be built within a 100 metre buffer zone. Even the coastal cliffs near by are scheduled. Bird trappers can appeal against the PA order. The PA, on the other hand, has the right to take direct action and demolish the structures at the expense of thepersons using the hides. Reuben Grima, curator of the site management unit in charge of 30heritage sites, said that as part of the ongoing conservation process an up to date photographic record of sites was kept. The photographic record of Mnajdra will help restorers put back thedislodged stones, most of which had never been moved since the temple was built some 5,000 years ago. The extent and pattern of the damage indicates that the senseless act was carefully planned and executed, said Mr Grima. Hagar Qim and Mnajdra have been under threat on and off for the past 10years, often linked to protests by hunters and trappers.

In 1991, after the government expressed its intention to convert the and around Hagar Qim and Mnajdra into a national park, someone had expressed his feelings by daubing a message in paint in the path leading to Hagar Qim, reading Namur jew ntajru - loosely meaning It's either our past time or this place will be blown up. In January 1994, Mdina was targeted by vandals who daubed pro-hunting messages in fluorescent paint over palaces, monuments, museums and private residences. Another target then was the Neolithic remains at Borg in-Nadur, close to Birzebbuga, where offensive messages scribbled in paint on the megaliths were addressed at the prime minister and the Malta Ornithological Society, now BirdLife Malta. At that time the government had amended the hunting and trapping regulations, primarily banning trapping in spring. In November 1996, Mnajdra fell victim to vandals who sprayed black paint on several of its megaliths. Despite an intensive clean-up, some paint marks are still visible the writing on the wall which was ignored, an environmentalist lamented.

One of the messages scrawled at Mnajdra was RTO, the letters used by hunters and trappers to reserve aplace from where to hunt birds.

ARRESTS FOR IMPORTS OF BIRD SKINS

SHOCK AT 'TALIBAN' VANDALISM AT ANCIENT SITES - WERE HUNTERS AND TRAPPERS EXERCISING REVENGE?

Eurobirder/Proact-Malta David Conlin 2001