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An analysis of poisoning cases in the Portuguese side of the Douro canyon

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As part of the LIFE RUPIS project, the Portuguese nature conservation agency (ICNF) has recently compiled all known cases of poisoning that occurred in the Portuguese side of the transboundary protected area between 1994 and the present (area covered 95,000ha).

During these 20+ years a total of 38 different cases of suspected or confirmed poisoning were identified, that affected 130 different individuals, half of which were dogs, and the other half wildlife.

The average number of animals poisoned per incident was 3,42, with the maximum number 23 (in the distant year of 1999). 60% of the cases were of confirmed poisonings, the rest being only suspected

There were 13 Egyptian vultures, 8 griffons and 4 black vultures among the identified victims. The study also identified three areas with an apparent concentration of cases, even though search effort and presence in the field were very diverse across the region, and indeed in those areas there seems to be a bigger decrease in the local breeding population of Egyptian vultures –  in one area a reduction of 40% in 10 years.

Fortunately, the survey suggests that poising was more common in the 90s and begging of 2000s –  see picture below

One aspect that needs to improve is the analysis and criminal persecution side –  in 70% of the cases no analyses were made, and in only 18% of the cases (7) the active substance was identified. Of all the cases, only in 4 (10%) there was a full criminal procedure, which always ended up without a concrete result – so there has been never a persecution regarding poisoning in the area! In about 40% of the cases where the motives were identified, predator control associated with hunting seems to be the main motive for poison.

Poisoning does not seem to be very common in the area, as the wolf is relatively rare in the region, but it is also true that effort put on the ground to search for poison cases has been very limited. Indeed, the LIFE RUPIS project is about to deploy the first ever two anti-poisoning brigades with trained dogs in the area. These results are very useful to help us implement an effective anti-poising campaign.

The project LIFE RUPIS aims to strength the populations of Egyptian Vulture in Douro International valley, through improved breeding success and reduction of mortality, and implemented by the VCF and partners, including SPEA (BirdLife in Portugal), ATN and Palombar (regional conservation organisations in NE Portugal), the Junta de Castilla y Leon & the Fundación Patrimonio Natural de Castilla Y León, the Portuguese electricity distributor EDP-D, the Portuguese statutory conservation agency ICNF and the Portuguese environmental police force (GNR). The project is tackling the most important threats to Egyptian vultures, namely food shortages, degradation of the habitat, electrocution risk and the illegal use of poison

The Egyptian vulture is Europe’s most threatened vulture species – classified as “Endangered” at global level. While the three others European vulture species are registering positive trends across Europe, Egyptian vultures continue to decline in most regions in the continent (and elsewhere).

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