The Fellowship of Life
Our recent note about the slaughter of migratory birds has caused the International Council for Bird Preservation in Cambridge to send us a report prepared for them about the situation in Malta. The report contains estimates, achieved through a survey carried out with 14 Maltese ornithologists, of average annual totals of birds killed on the island: several thousand herons; up to 3,000 ducks, shot especially on sea from boats, thousands of waders, including the tiny little stint; a thousand owls; perhaps as many as 200,000 turtle doves; up to 15,000 swifts; up to 100,000 skylarks; perhaps 50,000 robins; up to 300,000 thrushes; anything up to 7,000 golden orioles, one of the most beautiful birds to be seen in Europe; more than 250,000 sparrows. . . A minimum of three million finches are trapped every year. Birds of prey are a favourite target; up to 1,000 migrating honey buzzards, for example, never complete their journey.
We said in our previous note that the slaughter is much worse in Catholic countries than in Protestant ones. There are those who think the Christian religion has much to answer for. It has been a tragedy, in the view of one well-known authority on ecology, Max Nicholson, that the most influential religion in the world should have been "one of the very few which preached man's unqualified right of dominance over nature". But that is only one aspect of the Christian approach to creation. St Francis chose another way.
The report on Malta makes certain recommendations: that a section of the Maltese police force should be responsible for enforcing environmental regulations; that illegal shooting and poaching should be stopped; and that the Maltese government should sign the relevant international wildlife treaties. But conservationists have found Maltese attitudes hard to change.
"In this highly Catholic country", the coordinator of the migratory birds programme of the International Council for Bird Preservation told us, "by and large all migratory birds are at risk of being shot. Most legislative measures are totally inadequate and Malta is a rare example of a country which so far has not signed any relevant wildlife treaty."
From The Tablet dated 4 October 1986
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