Alfred E. Baldacchino,
General Secretary 1974-86, Malta Ornithological Society, writes
I met Joe Sultana when I was in my late 20s, through the Teens and Twenties Talent Trust – 4T’s, where I was committed. Eventually I sat on the committee of the Malta Ornithological Society (MOS), the first few months as PRO and later as the general secretary.
We became great friends and worked together for the better appreciation and conservation of birds. It was no easy task, especially during those early times when one had to hide one’s binoculars when out bird watching.
But Joe was determined, focused and had a dream, a dream which was so contagious.
All the bird lovers at that time got this bug. There were difficult times, with threats and also bullying. But under the guidance of Joe we marched on, through thick and thin all with one aim: the protection and better appreciation of birds as an international heritage.
As a nation we are responsible for such a natural heritage which we share with others especially during migration.
From a handful of members, the society grew not just in numbers but also in stature: international contacts, ornithological studies, educational activities all leading to a stronger, public awareness on birds. Joe was instrumental in establishing bird ringing studies through overseas contacts. Scientific papers slowly became part of the MOS work. Publications, from simple stickers, pamphlets to books were published to further increase the scientific and popular awareness by the general public.
Unfortunately, these were seen by some as a threat.
Politicians were not always helpful and neither were the religious entities during those times. But Joe was optimistic, he was not easily discouraged, and his leadership was instrumental in achieving such a noble, social, ecological, dream. Yes, he was.
Like him or hate him, one can never ignore or forget the vision, determination and unstinting dedicated work Joe gave to ornithology and its appreciation. Not only so but today one can never forget Joe Sultana in the world of ornithology.
Although Joe’s leadership gathered many admirers, none the less, there was no lack of enemies.
For 12 whole years, there was rarely a day when we were not in contact discussing and arguing the way ahead. Twelve years during which I learnt a lot from Joe, not only in the field of ornithology, but also in getting closer to achieving one’s dream.
After 12 years we drifted apart, though our aims and efforts towards the better appreciation of birds and nature were never dented. Each was contributing in his own way.
A look at the social media today reveals without any doubt the fruit of Joe’s dream.
The ever-increasing public awareness for the need of better protecting birds, and the professional photographing of birds in their natural habitat spell it all.
Professional photos of birds taken locally can rival others from overseas. It is not just the satisfaction of the stronger public outcry or the photos per se but the fact that during Joe’s early involvement in bird protection, these protected birds were not only butchered beyond any sense of imagination or reasoning, but also publicised as trophies in the mass media.
Surely the greatest satisfaction of all is that some of the professional photos are taken by the same finger which in the not so distant past pulled another kind of trigger. It did take almost half a century, but collective efforts have finally established a permanent basis to make Joe’s dream a reality.
While extending my condolences to Lucy, Mark and Ruth, Joe’s wife, son and daughter, I would also like to thank him for giving so much towards the birds of Malta and also for the many experiences we shared together working for the better appreciation and protection of nature.
Without doubt these have been of great help to me in my life.
Until we meet again, goodbye Joe.