Meet il-qabru: The rare Maltese freshwater crab which looks tough but needs protection!
On a recent early morning stroll around Bahrija, suddenly, right across my path, I came across a little beast of a creature, looking feisty with its large pincers and tough armour. A monster of a crab. I’m in Bahrija valley, down by the reeds that run along the stream, and steep cliffs separate me from the nearest shore. It dawns on me: “Il-qabru!” I exclaim out loud, although nobody else was there but me… and il-qabru, the Maltese freshwater crab.
I feel privileged to meet him. I had never seen a Maltese freshwater crab in my life. Sadly, it has become very rare due to human activity threatening its habitat and population. Il-qabru is an endemic species, yet it is found only in certain areas in the Maltese Islands, such as Bahrija, Imtahleb, San Martin and Mellieha at Ghajn Zejtuna, and Lunzjata Valley in Gozo.
The crab had been crawling slowly sideways until I came upon him, when he came to a halt. He threatened me with his pincers but, curious, I crouched down to get a closer look. I quickly discovered that although he looks like a tough warrior, the Maltese freshwater crab is a wuss. He just froze!
"Dude, no wonder your numbers have dwindled to endangered numbers if this is your natural response to imminent danger! If I were a boy aged eight, I could just imagine the fascination and desire to show you off to all my friends, and you’re such an easy catch!"
"Go back to your stream, retreat to your burrow or go hide among the vegetation. Isn’t that what you’d do if you’re threatened when in the water? Then why, here, do you stand so still?"
It was then that I noticed that the stream was on the dry side. I could hear the running water, but I couldn’t see it through the reeds. Fresh running water as well as springs and pools are the home of the Maltese freshwater crab, where he’ll make a partly submerged burrow in the mud or clay about half a metre deep. But drying up of streams as well as water pollution from pesticides contribute to the steadily declining numbers of the endemic Maltese freshwater crab, as well as its capture.
Il-qabru, the Maltese Freshwater Crab (Potamon Fluviatile ssp. Lanfrancoi) is a rare and endangered endemic species. In March 2018, it was declared a National Species by the Environment and Resources Authority, offering it greater protection still.
"But you need to take care of yourself too, dude - it’s a harsh world out there! I’m just capturing a few photos, but there are those who might just as well capture you! May they be wiser to let you be safe and free!"
While I walk away from the fool’s plan of pretending to be a rock, I feel grateful for the encounter. Spanning easily eight centimetres, this was a fully grown crab. I hoped he had a mate so that many others may prosper there. And I said a little prayer that running water will always flow abundant and clean; that food such as tadpoles and other smaller animals may always be available; that the crab population in this area can flourish; and that humans will be more mindful to share the land and water with other species, keeping it clean and allowing them to roam free.