Bird-watchers and conservationists fear for the fate of a male Peregrine Falcon (also known as the Maltese Falcon) residing in Gozo, after an organised illegal hunting attempt from land and sea was witnessed at Ta’ Cenc cliffs in Gozo last Saturday.
During an evening boat trip attended by 120 BirdLife Malta members to watch rafting Cory’s Shearwaters off Ta’ Cenc, attendees were alerted by shots fired from the cliffs. Witnesses saw three men with a shotgun in a speedboat below Ta’ Cenc cliffs who appeared to be coordinating with another two men on the cliffs, one of whom was also armed with a shotgun.
BirdLife members reported the illegal hunting incident to the Armed Forces of Malta, who arrived with a patrol boat within five minutes. The poachers fled the scene at great speed heading towards Xlendi as soon as the AFM vessel was seen approaching.
The targeted bird is one of a resident pair that had been seen regularly at Ta’ Cenc until May of this year when the female of the pair was reportedly killed by illegal hunters. It is now feared that the male has also been killed.
The Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus brookei, became synonymous with Malta in 1530, when the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V ceded the islands to the Knights of St. John in exchange for one Maltese Falcon per year.
The Peregrine Falcon was a regular breeder in Malta, until the last pair was killed by poachers in the 1980’s. Since then Peregrine Falcons have only made sporadic appearances along the more remote cliffs of the Maltese Islands.
“When the incentive to kill a unique specimen like the Peregrine Falcon outweighs the penalties faced in court, poachers go to the extremes of organised crime. It is evident that the alleged efforts of the government to clamp down on illegal hunting are failing, with birds such as the Maltese Falcon being prevented from making a comeback due to illegal shooting,” said Nicholas Barbara, BirdLife Malta Conservation Manager.