The Mediterranean island of Malta may have damaged its tourism potential by renewing approval for migratory bird shooting, a controversial custom in which migrating birds are shot in springtime before they can breed. Malta is the only EU country that allows it.
The issue came to a head last week in a hotly contested vote on banning the custom.
Those in favour of continuing hunting won by the narrowest of margins, 50.44% to 49.56%. Pro-hunt activists were “ecstatic” at the outcome, according to the BBC. They sent out jubilant tweets.
Conservationists, birders and others horrified by the shooting are now calling for a tourist and trade boycott of Malta, an island that derives its name from the Greek word for honey (a major local product). Tourism, from cruise ships and package holidays, is a bigger product and an important sector of Malta’s economy, contributing about 15% of gross domestic product (GDP).
Malta’s hunters aim at turtle doves and quail. Turtle doves, which mate for life, are shot in huge numbers during their long migration between Europe and Africa. The common quail is also heavily hunted, particularly along its migration routes. Quail numbers are now in decline across its range.
Critics say many protected species are being shot illegally during the birds’ crucial migration period, as they cross over Malta into Europe. Turtle dove numbers have fallen by 77% since 1980.
The turtle dove’s gentle “turr turr” call is one of Europe’s most evocative summer sounds, but it is becoming rarer as numbers of the birds decline.
Following last week’s hunting vote, Malta’s spring season shooting limit has been set at 11,000 turtle doves and 5000 quail . The spring quota is based on the number of hunting kills made in the autumn shooting season.
A social media debate has started on Twitter, trending #maltaslaughter, with some tweets urging tourists to boycott Malta over the issue. More protests are set to follow.
Written by Peter Needham