November 2012 Event: Kaċċa u Nsib


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Presentation By Emmanuel Cilia

As a topic Hunting and Trapping (Kaċċa u Nsib) in Malta has been very controversial in the recent past, locally and in the media around the EU. Malta has a long tradition and a well-established sub-culture involving generations of hunters and trappers. On recent estimates these form nearly 4% of the general population.

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Emmanuel gave us a brief global history of hunting taking us from pre-history up to modern times. Through this broad overview, it was demonstrated that hunting and trapping has featured heavily in the socio economic life of early human development, whilst in the post-industrial age, hunting and trapping has evolved into more of a past time and sport amongst the developed world. In recent modern times regulations on guns and hunting have been developed to prevent species from going extinct. While hunting is still very popular, it has a lot more restrictions than any other era in its history.

It was pointed out, that Malta has shown a similar pattern, however, in Malta the scope and scale of hunting and trapping is limited to rabbits and birds. It was noted that during the Carthageans occupation of the island, ship building/repair activities depleted the Maltese country side of indigenous timber, creating large rocky areas which could only support rabbits and birds habitats. Up to the time when the Knights of St John took possession of Malta, it was known that Malta was different from other regions of Europe. The difference was that land ownership and hunting privileges in Malta were not reserved to the aristocracy at that time. It followed that according to the feudalistic tradition, the knights immediately introduce hunting restrictions. This hit heavily the Maltese people, since the wild rabbits were one of a very few sources for fresh meat that was available to them. On the other hand, harvesting the wild rabbit population by the Maltese helped control serious damages to their local crops. The knight’s arrival on the island changed this natural balance between the Maltese and the land.

A related event is recorded, when the Grandmaster Francisco Ximenes de Texada issued a temporally limited total ban on hunting in February 1773. This immediately caused protests among the local people. These protests were soon supported by a majority of Maltese priests. On September 8th, 1775 the unrest escalated into open riots, and on the following day, a group of revolting Maltese priests occupied the order’s fort St. Elmo in Valletta. The so-called "rising of the priests" was immediately crushed, and its leaders were either sent to prison for a long time or executed,

It was suggested that this is the background on which the present-day controversy on hunting and trapping stems from. It appears that ever since the knight’s arrival, the Maltese in general always had issues with any restrictions and regulations related to hunting and trapping. Without going into too much detail, as Malta changed it's colonial masters in the last 350years, and eventually gaining full independence, hunting and trapping remained a right, and a tradition. So as long as there were no external legal/political jurisdictions the Kacca culture & tradition was predominately acceptable by most Maltese with little or no controversy for many years. This situation changed as Malta gained accession to the EU in 2004. On joining the EU Malta pledged to comply with the EU Birds Directive, which strictly limits the hunting of wild birds according to the conservation status of each species. Since that time compliance with the Birds directive has not been satisfactory leading to Malta being liable to charges and penalties under EU jurisdictions.

>Information was given on how Malta is located on the central Mediterranean flyway , one of the three main flyways used by birds to travel between Africa and Europe. This is the only route where birds must cross a large body of water on their migration. When flying over land, birds such as raptors glide on rising bodies of hot air, however over the sea these birds need to expend a lot of energy beating their wings in flight. This is very exhausting and makes the few islands where birds can stop, feed and regain their strength invaluable as resting and refuelling spots.

The Maltese archipelago is one of the few places on this route where birds can do so. Historically these islands have been host to many more regularly breeding species, including the Serin, Linnet, Common Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Barn Owl and Eurasian Jackdaw, among others. However, intense hunting and/or trapping and land development over many years has led to the local disappearance of these target species.

Emmanuel gave a broad description of the traditional hunting and trapping methods used on the Maltese island. He also showed pictures of commonly known Maltese birds species, like the Malvizz ( Thrush), Sponsun (Chaffinch), Bufula (Spectacled Warbler) and more.

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With regards to the Maltese wild rabbit, a brief description was given and a brief mention of the “Kelb tal-Fenek” was also provided. The Kelb tal-Fenek is the traditional hunting companion of the Maltese Farmers. It is known worldwide by the misleading name Pharaoh Hound . However there is no scientific proof for this artificial term. It is feared that the Kelb tal-Fenek's genuine character as an indigenous Maltese breed may suffer because of this perpetuation of the unproven 'Egyptian legend‘. The Kelb tal-Fenek is a breed of Mediterranean hounds, whose country of origin is the Maltese Islands.

Still today, the Kelb tal-Fenek is kept and bred in the Maltese countryside. It is highly appreciated by the local farmers as an outstanding rabbit hunter. But the Kelb tal-Fenek is also a reliable guard dog, accompanies goat and sheep on their way to the meadows and retrieves any kind of feathered prey.

Another Maltese breed which is to do with hunting is the Maltese Hunting Dog (Il-Kelb tal-Kacca) The Maltese National Canine Federation has recognized Il-Kelb tal-Kacċċ ta' Malta as an official breed on October 2010.

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The historical importance of the Verdal Palace was also mentioned. When the Knights ruled Malta they built a castle in Buskett (Verdala Palace) and used it as a summer residence and hunting lodge. The Maltese were not allowed to enter or hunt in the wooded grounds of the castle except on one day of the year: The feast of Mnarja held annually on June 29 which traditionally celebrates the martyrdom of saints Peter and Paul. The site of this Palace was formerly occupied by a small hunting lodge built by Grandmaster Jean de la Valette-Parisot between 1557 and 1568. Grandmaster Jean de Lascaris-Castellar (1636-1657) and later Grandmaster Manoel de Vilhena (1722-1736) contributed most to its embellishment.

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At the end of the talk there was a lot questions and discussion on the topic covered.

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