Olive Quick Decline Syndrome

December 16, 2016

times

Friday, 16th December, 2016

Olive Quick Decline Syndrome

Alfred E Baldacchino

Mid-October 2013, saw Xylella fastidiosa, the olive quick decline syndrome (OQDS) recorded in Italy: its first record for Europe. By April 2015 it had infected up to a million olive trees, many of them century-old, in the southern region of Apulia. This invasive disease is believed to have been introduced by ornamental plants from Costa Rica, where it is also causing havoc.

By July 2015 it quickly spread to Corsica, in municipalities of Nice, and Mandelieu-la-Napoule and by late October in Alpes-Maritimes in France. August 2016 saw it in Germany infecting oleander plants.

November 2016 found OQDS in the Spanish island of Mallorca, in a garden centre on three cherry trees and an oleander.

OQDS is regarded as the most harmful plant pathogenic bacteria in the world. It infects grapevines, peaches, citrus, oak, sycamore, and many other trees and ornamental plants, such as spurge, lavender and rosemary. No cure has yet been found for such disease, as the European Food Safety Organisation has warned.

European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organisation (EPPO) had since 1981 listed it on its A1 list of pests recommended for regulation as quarantine pests, regarding it as representing a very serious threat for the EPPO region

effect-of-x-f

Symptoms of OQDS, regarded as the most harmful plant pathogenic bacteria in the world.

Across Europe, 359 plant species have been identified as susceptible to Xylella. Many of these species show no symptoms of the disease, and provide a reservoir for reinfection of other plants, thus making Xylella difficult to control and making phytosanitary certificates  useless

This bacterium thrives in the water-conducting vessels (xylem) of plants. It invades these vessels and blocks the transport of water and other soluble mineral nutrients. This leads to the drying, scorching, wilting of the foliage, and eventually the collapse and death of the tree.

spittlebug

Spittlebugs – serves as carriers of OQDS

It spreads with the help of insects such as leafhoppers and spittlebugs, which feed on the plant xylem. These insects do not fly long distances, but can be helped by the wind, by other animals, and by vehicular transport.

Spain and France were deeply concerned when Xylella was recorded for the first time in 2013. Their production of olive oil and wine is under a great threat. The matter was also raised at European Union level.

Italy is heavily affected, considering that the only method to date to control such disease is by eradication of the infected million olive trees. These contribute to 40 per cent of the olive oil produced in Italy. Besides the economic loss, the social and ecological impacts are beyond any estimate.

effect-of-x-f-2

Olive trees which succumbed to OQDS. Not that we really need Xylella to reduce our olive trees to such a state. The sight of the 60 olive trees on Malta University campus were similarly aesthetically reduced and paid for by University funds. Perhaps the University’s educational pro-active vision wanted to show the people a picture of things to come if Xylella succeeds in being imported in Malta. The only difference would be that they will give up their  ghost for ever.  

Malta is blessed that it is an island surrounded by an expanse of sea that makes it impossible for these xylem-feeding insects to arrive naturally. But… it seems that we never learn.

butchered tree 7

Pruned olive trees which once enhanced the campus of the University of Malta. A mis-management exercise of the highest grade.

Palm trees were imported for landscaping purposes from areas known to be infected by the Asian red palm weevil. More than 5,000 palm trees have been lost to date. Timber introduced the African long-horned mulberry beetle, which besides killing most of the mulberry trees in the islands, now has turned its attention to the white mulberry, carob and fig tree.

Imported geraniums by garden centres have also helped to introduce the geranium bronze butterfly from South Africa. All of these have been introduced by trees and plants carrying a phytosanitary certificate from the country of origin, to confirm that they were all disease free. How many imported tomato seedlings accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate, introduced the South American tomato moth (Tuta absoluta)?

Trees and other plants mainly, for landscaping and ornamental purposes, are still being imported from countries which are infected with this OQDS.

The Ministry for the Environment is responsible to ensure that such invasive species and other pathogens are not introduced in Malta, both through the Environment and Resource Authority, and also through its Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Department of Agriculture. Once there was a renowned experimental farm at Għammieri, which today is more concerned with domestic dogs, cats, and birds.

A very good animation video has been produced by the Plant Health Department. Very good. What is needed now is urgent action.

Environmental responsibilities are far from being helped by the Ministry of Landscaping. Doors are flung wide open for exotic species to be planted in ‘landscaping’ projects, paid out of public funds, administered through an €8 million yearly budget, according to a secret agreement which, despite the Commissioner for Data Protection’s ruling, is still being withheld.

If Xylella were to make a foothold on this island, the price that society and the environment will have to pay is beyond any imagination

Those handful of pro-business politicians and their acolytes might ask if they are expected to stop the importation of exotic species. The question is whether such politicians are worried, not only for the young developing olive oil industry in Malta which is trying hard to acquire an EU/EC Declaration of Conformity (DOC) for CE Marking, but also for the wine and citrus industry. And naturally the islands ecosystem which if, God forbid, Xylella were to make a foothold on this island, the price that society and the environment will have to pay is beyond any imagination.

Prevention is better than cure, especially when there is no cure at all. That would be the day when one can honestly boast of a sound environmental policy. From experience, political action in this regard will only be considered when the social, economic and environmental fabric have bit the dust, or as it is said, when all the horses have bolted.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Alfred Baldacchino is a former assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

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Red Palm Weevil invades eco-Gozo

June 1, 2013

times

Saturday,1 June, 2013

Weevil invades eco-Gozo

Alfred E. Baldacchino

 

The red palm weevil first set foot in the Maltese Islands in 2007.  Despite the expanse of the natural adequate sea barrier preventing this weevil from crossing over to the Maltese Islands – it can only fly a distance of one kilometre – it did manage to get a free ride on infected palm trees imported from Egypt and Europe.

The bad news was relayed through a press release issued on 24 October 2007, by the Ministry for Rural Affairs and the Environment informing the public of the Red Palm Red-Palm-WeevilWeevil’s presence in Malta. It quickly established itself and from St. Paul’s Bay, where the infected trees were housed, it spread to Salini, Qawra, Mosta, Attard, Mtafra, Rabat, Siġġiewi, Żebbuġ, Luqa: in a short spell it spread all over the island of Malta.

The transportation of palm trees to Gozo was immediately withheld. The expanse of sea between the islands also served as a natural barrier preventing its dispersal.

A parliamentary question dated 25 March 2009, revealed that 310 palm trees were uprooted in Malta. These consisted of 121 from public places and 189 from private gardens. This year, on the 5 May, another parliamentary question further revealed that during the first four months of 2013, a total of 248 palm trees infected by the Red Palm Weevil, were uprooted in Malta.

From 2008 to 2013, the total number of palm trees officially uprooted is 558: the result of the mismanagement of Maltese biodiversity, reflecting the hidden costs paid by society and the ecosystem.

I was under the impression (up to Sunday, 21 May 2013) that the Red Palm Weevil was prevented from invading Gozo, and palm trees there were safe. It was on these thoughts that I expressed myself during a comment on the Red Palm Weevil on the national TV station news bulletin. But my optimism was short lived.

No sooner had the news been transmitted than a Gozitan friend of mine phoned to inform me that the red palm weevil had officially established itself in Gozo since September 2012, despite the fact that trees landing at Imgarr Gozo are monitored.

On the morrow, another Gozitan friend contacted me to tell me that a relative of his had some palm trees on his land, which trees had also been attacked by the red palm weevil.

To add insult to injury, after reporting such infected trees, he was given a warning from the Ministry of Rural Affairs and the Environment, that if the infected trees were not uprooted in a couple of days he would be heavily fined to the tune of €666.66!

Why has the invasion of eco-Gozo by the red palm weevil been kept a secret to this day? Why were the Gozitans not informed of the invasion by this introduced weevil, so that they could take any precautionary measures they deemed necessary?

Before I am so rudely reminded, I do recall that since the invasion of eco-Gozo by the red palm weevil, there was a general election!

2008.10.05---larvae-2

The larva of the Red Palm Weevil

Imported alien species all carry a hidden cost, no matter what politicians, entrepreneurs or public officials say or think.

And while landscapers cash on quick profits, and politicians gloat on the number of imported trees and flowers planted, and prime ministers tour ecological time bombs, the hidden cost is borne by society and the ecosystem.

Such burden is becoming heavier and heavier. Great Britain, an island, spends £3 billion annually to control three invasive fresh water species. The EU, the largest importer of alien species, spends €16 billion annually to control the negative impacts of invasive alien species. Brussels has belatedly realised that the free movement of goods with regards to living species, whether flora or fauna, is playing with a very expensive time bomb.

2008.10.05---larvae

The larva of the Red Palm Weevil at work

One hopes that Government will not follow the path of its predecessor, and will immediately intervene and take action.

The red palm weevil is just a living example. There are other invasive alien species, some which have already made their mark and issued invoices, such as the geranium bronze butterfly, the mulberry long horned beetle, the Asian tiger mosquito, while others are still building on their populations before their impact is felt and seen, such as the number of land snails slowly but surely dispersing outwards from their nurseries.

2008.02.03---weevil-cocoons-

Cocoons of the Red Palm Weevil spun by the larvae, before they emerge as adult weevils

Social and ecological considerations are not even factored in the maximisation of profits of such businesses, which up to the ides of March 2013 had political backing.

The bottom line is that eco-Gozo, and Malta, despite obligatory phytosanitary certificates, political half-baked measures, colourful publications, and national and international legal obligations, have been invaded by an alien species despite persistent warnings. 

Gozo is such a small island that the red palm weevil won’t have any problem infesting each and every palm tree there.

Furthermore, it is not that difficult – if there is the will – to trace where new palm trees have been planted.

2008.02.03---ther-works-of-the-Red-Palm-Weevil-larva

The fatal works of the Red Palm Weevil

Along with habitat destruction, over-exploitation, and the domino effect of extinction of species, Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Jared Diamond has included invasive species as one of the “Four Horsemen” of this ecological apocalypse.

2008.01.15---dead-palm-tree-at-Imtarfa

One of the 600 dead palm trees killed by the Red Palm Weevil at Mtarfa. Who’s paying for the damages?

Eco-Gozo and the Maltese ecosystem now have to pay through their noses for such self inflicted political mismanagement and for ignoring national and international obligations showing the complete failure of virtual eco-Gozo and the once environmental pillar.

Will this apocalypse horse gallop on unbridled, spurred by financial greed?

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com

See also

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/07/25/the-red-palm-weevil-another-alien-species/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/eu-stand-on-invasive-species/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/the-introduction-of-alien-species-into-the-natural-environment-%E2%80%93-a-european-concern/


EU stand on invasive species

October 29, 2012

Monday, October 29, 2012

EU stand on invasive species

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The public is becoming more and more aware of invasive species, not because of any proactive educational measures or political convictions or commitments but, unfortunately, because of the invasive species’ economic, social and ecological negative impacts.

We are talking of non-indigenous or non-native species that are introduced into a region or a country. These adversely affect natural habitats, which they invade and then establish themselves. Invasive species can be either plants or animals.

The European Union defines “invasive alien species” as those species that threaten biological diversity. These species can be introduced either intentionally or accidentally.

The modern means of aerial, terrestrial and marine transport, has aided the spread of such invasive species to the extent that, today they know no boundaries. Even island-states that once had a natural barrier against such invasive species are today as susceptible to them as much as land-locked states.

The EU has as one of its main aims the free movement of goods. It also has a number of legal instruments such as directives, regulations and decisions which oblige member states to do their utmost to control invasive species. Given the free movement of goods concept, such regulations are very frail. An ad hoc committee is in fact discussing measures to be adopted in this regard.

Over the years, the importance and need to address the issue of invasive species gathered momentum on an international level following their economic, social and ecological negative impacts. Controlling invasive flora, fauna and pathogens species is a major global challenge because they are among the greatest threats to biodiversity.

dead palm trees

Dead Palm Trees – the result of the introduced invasive alien Red Palm Weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus). Most of the Palm Trees in Howard Gardens, Rabat, and others in the surrounding areas have all been killed.

Their threat to global economic health is significant, estimated at $350 billion annually. The United Kingdom annually spends £1.7 billion to control the impact of just three freshwater species: the American bull frog, the red-eared slider and the American signal crayfish. The EU spends €16 billion to control the damage of some of the invasive species established in the Community.

Social entities, whether political, scientific, environmental, conservationists, even some economical, are belatedly realising that the free movement of goods concept, and the breaking down of trade and other barriers between people and nations just for economic gain, is only benefiting the entrepreneurs while externalities, or hidden costs, are being borne by society and the environment at large.

The EU is not a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) because the parties to this convention have not yet approved an amendment for the adherence of regional economic blocks.

Despite being just an observer to this convention, the EU has its own regulations that implement CITES in the EU member states. These regulations go further than those of the convention itself because the latter’s aim is the protection of the listed species per se while those of the EU encompass, to some extent, the social or ecological impact on the environment by the imported traded species.

These EU regulations are updated from time to time and one such measure is the updating of the list that includes the suspension of trade of certain species within the Community. This list includes, among others, the red-eared slider terrapin, the painted turtle, the American bull frog and the ruddy duck.

Following the Scientific Review Group report, the EU has added three invasive species of squirrels by suspending their introduction through international trade within the Community, namely the fox squirrel, native of North America; the eastern grey squirrel, native to the eastern and mid-western United States; and the Pallas squirrel, native of South Asia.

This regulation was published in the EU official journal of August 20 and became binding on September 10 in its entirety and directly applicable in all member states, including Malta.

Malta is not spared from the negative impact of invasive species. During these last few years, these have had their negative impact on the local natural habitats and also on indigenous species. Some of these were accidentally introduced while others were intentionally released in the wild.

Levant water frog

The Levant water frog (Pelophylax bedriagae) is an intentionally alien invasive species introduced in the wild in the island of Gozo, preying on the indigenous Painted Frog (Discoglossus pictus)and other indigenous aquatic species.

Some of the established alien invasive species, and their negative impacts visible in Malta include, the red palm weevil, the geranium bronze butterfly, the mulberry longhorn beetle, the fountain grass, the Hottentots fig, the Brazilian pepper tree, the Levant water frog, the mosquito fish and the red-eared slider, the latter three intentionally introduced in the freshwater pool at San Rafflu in Gozo, from where the former is spreading. There are also others, such as land snails, whose negative impact is not yet being seen or felt.

Fountain grass

The Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum) extensively used in Government Landscaping programme, in one of the latest introduced invasive species which is found growing in some valleys and also along roadways.

The present scenario with regard to invasive alien species is that while entrepreneurs cash on the profits from the sale of imported traded species, society and the environment pay for the externalities of such trade.

Geranium Bronze

The South African Geranium Bronze Butterfly (Cacyreus marshalli) is another locally invasive species introduced in 2007. It is increasing rapidly and is found both in urban areas and also in rural areas, both in Malta and also in Gozo.

SEE ALSO

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2011/10/02/roundabout-plants-described-as-invaders/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/07/25/the-red-palm-weevil-another-alien-species/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/the-introduction-of-alien-species-into-the-natural-environment-%E2%80%93-a-european-concern/


Landscaping with native flowers

May 19, 2011

Landscaping with native flowers

Thursday, May 19, 2011 ,

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Over the last few weeks, nature regal­ed us with its wonders, richness and colours of native spring wild flowers: fields covered with red carpets of poppies, lavish yellow crown daisies and perennial wall rocket, white borders of sweet alison and white mustard, mauve patches of mallow, wild artichoke and the dappled bear’s breech, different sizes and colours of bindweeds, some red-listed, among many, many others. All for free: no fees charged for sowing; for watering or weeding.

Crown Daisy - Lellux

Unfortunately, instead of appreciating and encouraging nature’s free gifts, the government’s official policy seems to be to decimate and eliminate them. Masked clothed men can be seen spraying herbicide at every wild native flower that dares raise its head and bloom within a stone’s throw of the urban environment, eliminating also the ecological niche and all the other flora and fauna depending directly or indirectly on such a niche.

Year after year sizeable patches of Bindweed along the Imriehel bypass, were shaved to the ground untill they finally succumb.

Such government policy is contributing to the disappearance of a number of native species like, for example, butterflies and moths. If it isn’t for the migratory butterflies, the dash of colours of the native ones would be so sparse. Some, like the small copper, have already hung up their wings. Others, like the meadow brown, are not far from following suit.

When have you seen your last 7-spot Ladybird?

Once, the red seven-spotted ladybird was as common as all the exotic flowers being planted along traffic islands and highways today. It controlled and preyed on aphids taken from plants and trees – just for free! But the government policy of spraying insecticide and herbicides along roads and streets is also drastically eliminating natural predators.

Today, the harmful alien red palm weevil can be more plentiful than the once common helpful ladybird. And, naturally, this policy is also affecting pollinators, such as the honey bees.

Financial and human resources are available to embellish the country in a sustainable way, without any externalities, that is, without any hidden costs borne by society in general, and by biodiversity in particular. Unfortunately, the myopic policy in using such resources shows a glaring lack of biodiversity conservation and social consideration concepts, though strong profit motives.

Mallow - Ħubbejż - did not escape the herbicide or shaving either.

Such official policy also approves the clearing of native wild flowers to make way for exotic species, contributing to the establishment of invasive alien species, such as the South African Hottentot fig, which is also so declared by the State of the Environment Report for the Maltese Islands.

The dreaded invasive alien species, Hottentot Fig, which despite competing with endangered indigenous species, is being planted, with government funds.

A handbook published by Daisie (Delivering Alien Invasive Species Inventory for Europe), funded by the European Commission, listed the Hottentot fig as one of the worst 100 invasive species in Europe. Suggestions made include its restricted sale, public awareness of its negative impacts, encouraging its proper removal and disposal and promotion of native species.

The wild Sweet Alison (Buttuniera) does not look so sweet for the commercial landscapers.

The EU Habitats Directive also obliges member states to take measures to ensure that any introduction of a non-native species does not prejudice the natural fauna and flora by regulating or prohibiting the importation of non-native species. But the government is making available public funds to replace native wild flora with such invasive species, in this case the Hottentot fig.

A short drive by the roundabout leading to Malta International Airport, to the verges past the Blata l-Bajda Museum chapel and to the roads leading to Mater Dei Hospital, among many others, will show this planted invasive alien species.

The plant is established on sea cliffs and on sand dunes, competing with local rare indigenous cliff and dune vegetation, even endemics listed in the EU Habitats Directive annexes. A look from the belvedere overlooking the Blue Grotto in Żurrieq can reveal some areas where it has established itself.

In Gozo, it is found growing wild in the now famous Dwejra special area of conservation (or should I say special area of convenience). I find it very, very difficult to understand how the government not only allows this to happen but also contributes through public funds.

More than a decade ago there used to be a Ministry for the Environment, which used to address such obligations. It seems the government, despite having the environment as one of its main pillars (to be corrected if I am wrong), never seems to learn and does not want to know and to listen.

Through the government policy mentioned above, a number of invasive alien species have already established themselves in the Maltese islands. Naturally, the public and the local biodiversity bear the hidden financial costs of such policy.

Who has not had the misfortune to bear costs in connection with the damage done by the red palm weevil, the geranium butterfly, the Asian long-horned beetle, the tomato leaf miner and the Bedriaga’s frog, among others? Definitely not the Maltese biodiversity, despite Malta’s commitment to control biological loss by 2010.

The Wild Artichoke (Qaqoċċ salvagg)

The government can indeed turn a blind eye to such hidden costs. It can also continue with such a blinkered policy driven by the now familiar and usual short economic returns. But no blind eye can ever fail to see the political responsibility of those who are in a position to avert such damage and miserably fail to do so.

Writing on invasive alien species, Jeanine Pfeiffer, research director for social sciences at Earthwatch Institute said: “We can’t afford to be culturally ignorant any longer.” It seems the government strongly begs to differ!

Following the publication of the above article, a reader kindly sent me this photo showing what nature can give for free, which unfortunately is not appreciated at all.


That business-as-usual stand

January 15, 2011

Saturday, 15th January 2011

That business-as-usual stand

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity was first discussed at length at the Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 giving birth to the Convention on Biological Diversity, today having 193 parties. The European Union, a party to theConvention, in a 2001 summit initiated ambitious commitments agreed upon by heads of state and of government to halt the loss of biodiversity in the EU by the end of 2010. This became one of the main targets for managing and conservingnatural resources and was later endorsed by the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002.To achieve such targets and put biodiversity on course to recovery, the EU, in 2006, approved a detailed action plan, aiming primarily to clarify responsibilities concerning the implementation of legislation already in place. As a sign of further support, in 2007, the UN declared 2010 as the International Year for Biological Diversity. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stressed that “business as usual is not an option” and that “new targets and a new vision is indeed urgentlyneeded”. Such concept was elaborated in September 2010 at a high-level meeting of the UN with the participation of heads of state and of government.

The IYB’s main aim is to raise awareness on the importance of biodiversity with a view of engaging all stakeholders for protecting life on earth, to influence decision-makers and to raise biological diversity to the top of the political agenda. Everyone has to do one’s part. It is unacceptable not to take immediate and effective action. There cannot be a new vision excluding stakeholders. Only such a broad-based partnership, commitment, cooperation, coordination andcommunication can ensure life can continue to flourish on this planet for the benefit of species, naturally including humankind. This is the only way a commitment can be acquired to reinforce the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity. An evaluation report has to be submitted to the UN General Assembly in 2011.

As a member state of the CBD, the UN and the EU, Malta is bound by all these commitments. What were Malta’scontributions towards halting biodiversity loss? Apart from the official periodic educational snippets, on the line of what environmental NGOs used to do more than 40 years ago, there is little one can highlight except for the occasional declaration of a protected area without any follow-up whatsoever. On the other hand, however, there is, unfortunately, quite a long list of decisions, actions or lack of them, which not only did not contribute to the prevention of biological loss but had a completely diametrically opposite effect. Considering the source of such negative impacts on biodiversity, this shows the importance of Mr Ban’s emphasis that “business asusual is not an option” and that “new targets and a new vision is indeed urgently needed”.

An off-the-cuff glance at some local “contributions” is a sine qua non. What comes to mind first is the number of alien invasive species that established themselves in the wild these last few years. Some have already managed to prove very costly not only economically but also ecologically and socially. Some of these introductions, albeit not all intentional but all due to lack of any foresight, include the red palm weevil, geranium bronze butterfly, the mulberry longhorn beetle, the tomato leaf miner, the Levantine water frog and about a dozen molluscs(snails) spreading from around some garden centres. Others might not have yet made an impact but when they do it will be too late for any action.

Climate change increases additional costs to control IAS. Britain spends £1.7 billion a year and EU costs amount to about €12 billion. No official figures are available for Malta despite the fact that IAS’s negative impacts are becoming more widespread. And the importation of flora and fauna, the main carriers of IAS,  goes on without any hindrance at all,  except, perhaps, for a phytosanitary/veterinary certificate on which some IAS have travelled.

More of a concern is the fact that the authority responsible to control and eliminate such IAS hinted at the possible intoxication of a fresh water pool to eliminate an alien frog in eco- Gozo. Much the same like advice from Josef Fritzl on how to protect children from sex abuse!

Still very unfortunate were development permits (none related to the management of the areas) issued inside EU Natura 2000 sites. A quick recollection reveals Mistra, Baħrija, and Dwejra – again in eco-Gozo. And, naturally, Buskett, another Natura 2000 site, saved by the skin of its teeth from becoming a public garden where, possibly, pansies and geraniums would have joined the numbers of IAS at this site.The business-as-usual stand adopted by Malta in international fora on the listing of the bluefin tuna in the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of  Wild Flora and Fauna and against adjusted quotas, both raised within the EU, is perhaps the cherry on the IYB’s cake.  Mr Ban’s emphasis that “business as usual is not an option” and that “new targets and a new vision is indeed urgently needed” seem specifically coined for the political fraternity.

The year 2010 has come and gone and with it a number of species of wild flora and fauna, which either gave up the ghost in the year of deliverance or else have been pushed to the brink of doing so. The target date has now been extended to 2020. By that time, today’s actors’ names will be engraved in stone – as a reminder of who was accountable for preventing biodiversity loss by 2010.


In search of tiger’s documents

January 11, 2010

Tuesday, 15th September 2009

Talking Point

In search of tiger’s documents

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Following the red palm weevil, the Geranium bronze butterfly and other alien species, which got a foothold on these islands, now a Bengal tiger has surfaced on a rooftop! Without doubt, this felid was brought to Malta, either imported from a country outside the European Union or transported from one of the EU member states.

The Bengal tiger hunts medium to large prey such as wild pigs, deer, antelopes and buffalo. This second largest wild big cat can reach a length of three metres from head to tail and weigh about 250 kilogrammes. It can jump a horizontal leap of 10 metres and a vertical jump of five metres. It is estimated that there are fewer than 3,000 wild Bengal tigers, each having a minimum territory of 20 square kilometres.

Because of widespread illegal trade in wild animals and plants, which, incidentally, is second only to international drug trafficking, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) came into force in 1973. The Bengal tiger is listed in the convention’s Appendix I, which includes the most endangered animals and plants threatened with extinction. International trade in such species is prohibited. In exceptional cases trade may take place provided it is authorised by the granting of both an import permit and an export permit. This means that:

If the Bengal tiger was legally imported from outside the EU, the Maltese Cites management authority, which is Mepa, had to issue an import permit after the scientific authority had given its advice that the import will not be detrimental to the species involved. An importation and export permit from country of origin had to be surrendered to Mepa.

If the Bengal tiger was transported to Malta from within the EU, then two EU wildlife trade regulations, (EC) 338 of 1997 and (EC) 865 of 2006, which implement the provision of Cites, come in play. The object of these regulations is to protect species of wild fauna and flora and to guarantee their conservation by regulation trade therein. The introduction into the Community of specimens of the species listed in Cites Appendix I is subject to the completion of the necessary checks and the prior presentation of documents at the border Customs office at the point of introduction, which member states have designated and notified the EU and Cites secretariat accordingly.

If the Bengal tiger was imported legally, then Mepa, which is the management authority both for Cites and also for the EU regulations, should have all the documents at its finger tips. If it does not have any, then the Bengal tiger was imported into Malta, and into the EU, illegally.

The importation and exportation of wild flora and fauna is not just the responsibility of Mepa, which is just concerned with the ecological aspect. Nonetheless, the importation of living species can have a social and an economical negative impact, something the local administrative entitles are finding it so difficult to apprehend. Poisonous species like snakes and spiders are of concern to the Ministry for Social Policy, responsible for health. Dangerous animals, like felids, chimpanzees and also reptiles, also fall within the wing of the ministry responsible for veterinary services.

The Veterinary Service Act designates a “border inspection post” for carrying out veterinary inspections by veterinary officers on imported live animals. The EU and Cites both have been notified of these specific posts. This means that the Bengal tiger had to enter Malta through one of these designated posts, accompanied not only by the Cites/EU documentation but also by a veterinary health certificate issued by the country of origin. The Animal Welfare Act, administered by the veterinary services within the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs, is also responsible for the monitoring of ill treatment of animals and aggressive animals that may present a danger to the safety of man or other animals and which are classified as such by the minister. These animals shall not be bred, imported or sold in Malta.

In another section of the press, the Director of Animal Welfare is reported as having said that the Bengal tiger is being taken good care of, has an air-conditioned room, is fed chickens and there are no indications that it has bothered anyone from the surroundings. Yet, no mention has been made of any veterinary health certificate that had to be surrendered to the veterinary services at the border inspection post, more important as felids are included in the Fourth Schedule of the Veterinary Service Act.

So while a search for the importation and veterinary documents is being conducted, the Bengal tiger is comfortably in an airconditioned room, eating chickens. And during such search for the legal documents, will it come of age and start searching for a mate? Will it do the Houdini act? When pigs can fly in Malta, why cannot their predator fly too? Will it be infected by some endemic virus and be eaten by rats overnight? Time will tell. In the meantime, the search from all sides goes on. But the most important question, considering the above legal provisions, is: But how on earth did such a blessed tiger manage to surface on an urban rooftop?

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