The tiny Mediterranean archipelago of Malta (Gozo and Comino being Malta’s sister isles) is normally regarded as a friendly, sun-soaked holiday island, featuring a wealth of historical and archaeological treasures. It is seldom labelled as the site of a modern massacre, mass violence and ignorance.
Last week, a British TV personality and naturalist, Chris Packham, led a crusade to pressure the Maltese to ban the hunting of birds. His nightly YouTube newscasts, featuring Packham either agitated or devastated while holding dead and injured birds, have been viewed and commented upon widely in the newspapers, on television and on social media.
Hunting birds has long been a significant part of Maltese culture. There are around 10,000 registered hunters on the island. Since Malta joined the European Union in 2004, the hunters have negotiated some exemptions from European Union directives that would curb their favoured pastime. However, some measures remain in place. In particular, there are contentious quotas placed on turtle-dove and quail hunting over the popular spring shooting-period, a time when Malta is a port of call for migratory birds. Hunters see the quotas as an imposed limit on Maltese culture, and on their favoured leisure activity. Anti-hunting activists say the quotas are a reasonable restriction, which is rarely properly enforced, on a cultural practice that is well past its sell-by date.
Chris Packham and anti-hunting campaigners have succeeded in portraying the Maltese hunters as the last vestige of barbarism in Europe, and the Maltese authorities as in-hock to the hunters. For Packham, Malta is a ‘bird hell’, an ‘avian apocalypse’.
Packham’s campaign has attracted a lot of support on social media and in the newspapers. Many of his allies have picked up on his theme of Maltese barbarism and some have taken it even further. Notably, Queen guitarist Brian May has said that Malta’s bird hunting is ‘another manifestation of the vestiges of savagery in humans’. Comedian turned wildlife expert Bill Oddie and members of the League Against Cruel Sports have also paid a visit to Malta and lent their support to Packham’s campaign, along with many UK conservation volunteers.