Fighting illegal wildlife poisoning on the Balkan Peninsula

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Our recent groundbreaking study on the use of illegal wildlife poisoning across the Balkan Peninsula that found around 2,300 vultures have died over the last 20 years due to illegal wildlife poisoning. Since December we have focused on the situation in each of the countries paricipating in the Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, FYR Macedonia and Serbia.  Working with our partners in each of these countries The Balkan Vultures Poison Study lists a series of recommendations to fight illegal wildlife poisoning and make the region safer for vultures and other wildlife.

Poisoning in the Balkans 

Cineresous Vulture, Riga, one of the three birds reintroduced to Bulgaria as part of Vultures Back to LIFE
Cineresous Vulture, Riga, one of the three birds reintroduced to Bulgaria as part of Vultures Back to LIFE

Many threats such as persecution, habitat loss and electrocution led to the dramatic decline of all four vulture species across the Balkan Peninsula. However, the practice of illegal wildlife poisoning is the largest cause of the decline that has seen Bearded Vultures virtually extinct in the region except for six breeding pairs on Crete, Griffon Vultures reduced to just two strongholds in Serbia and Croatia and small isolated populations across other countries, Egyptian Vultures losing 50 percent of their population in just 10 years to just 70 pairs and Cinereous Vultures reduced to just 21-35 pairs in the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park in north east Greece.

Since 2002 millions of euros have been spent protecting vultures in the Balkans from poisoning  including education and capacity building programmes such as training seminars and workshops to equip aimed at vets, environmental inspectors and law enforcement agencies, conservation measures such as canine anti-poison detection units, awareness raising activities targeting hunters and farmers and running compensation schemes for livestock losses.

The illegal use of poison continues to be the single most important threat to vultures in the Balkans and is preventing their comeback in the region.

Fighting illegal wildlife poisoning

Canine anti-poison detection unit in Greece January 2018 with a poisoned Cineresous Vulture
Canine anti-poison detection unit in Greece January 2018 with a poisoned Cineresous Vulture

Working with our partners in the Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project the Balkan Vulture Poison Study proposes recommendations to fight illegal wildlife poisoning in each of the participating countries. There are several recommendations that are common across all the countries to fight illegal wildlife poisoning.

  • Creating centralised databases of poisoning incidents

Following the lead of Greece other countries in the Balkans should work to increase and improve relevant information about wildlife poisoning by creating centralised databases. These databases should contain all incidents of wildlife poisoning, with all available data such as location, date, affected wildlife, substances used to help assess the scope and severity of wildlife poisoning in each country. This data will also help define potential hotspots for these illegal activities and plan appropriate conservation actions.

  • Campaigns to raise awareness of the risks associated with the practice of wildlife poisoning.

Working with stakeholders such as hunting and farming associations and governmental authorities efforts should be made to raise awareness of the threat of the use of toxic poisons not only to vultures and wildlife but also to human health and the penalties for practicing wildlife poisoning.

  • Improvements in current national legislation and legal frameworks.

Unclear legislation is also an important reason for the low engagement of relevant governmental authorities in most of the Balkan countries. Strengthening of often inadequate or vaguely worded national legislation and better description of responsibilities in reporting, investigating and processing cases of wildlife poisoning.

As part of the Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project we are supporting our partners across the Balkan Peninsula to develop Anti-Poisoning Roadmaps that are relevant to the specific issues occurring in the country, and advocating for their incorporation in the national legislation. These will be unveiled at our Balkan Anti-Poisoning Workshop we are hosting in April.

  • Better engagement of the relevant governmental authorities and enforcement agencies to improve law enforcement. 

Having low awareness of the threat of wildlife poisoning has led to relevant governmental authorities being poorly engaged in detection and prevention of this conservation issue. This can be addressed by awareness raising campaigns targeted specifically at police, public prosecutors and national and regional environment authorities. The report also recommends development of operational protocols for responsible authorities related to legal processing of wildlife poisoning cases, responsibilities and jurisdiction of all responsible governmental institutions and advocate for their official endorsement by relevant governmental authorities.

The improvement of pre-investigation procedures is also recommended to strengthen the collection of evidence such as detection (surveying for poison baits or dead animals), sampling of poison, conduction of necropsies on dead animals and invest in resources for toxicological analysis to support successful prosecutions of those committing the crime of wildlife poisoning.

To support colleagues working across the Balkan Peninsula in this work we are hosting a knowledge exchange visit to Spain in May to understand the work of the Environmental Authorities in the Junta de Andalucia and their world leading practice of fighting illegal wildlife poisoning.

Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project 

The use of poisonous substances such as the banned toxic pesticide Carbofuran and baits laced with these substances in the environment is one of the most widely used predator eradication methods worldwide as highlighted in the Vulture Multi-species Action Plan. During the last 20 years a total of 465 vultures were found poisoned in 227 separate incidents, in total an estimated 2,300 vultures have been the victim of poisoning since 1998.

The Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project is a cross-border initiative bringing together wildlife conservation organisations, governmental agencies and other stakeholder such as; hunting associations, farmers and scientists, in five Balkan countries to tackle illegal wildlife poisoning.

Funded by the Mava Foundation we aim to secure real and continued engagement of the relevant national governmental authorities in the Balkan region against illegal wildlife poisoning and increase their capacity to counteract it and working together to take positive steps to protect vultures.

The Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project is a partnership between us here at the Vulture Conservation Foundation and the Albanian Ornithological Society-AOSProtection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania-PPNEAOrnithological Society “Naše ptice”,Association BIOMHellenic Ornithological Society-HOS, Macedonian Ecological Society-MES.

The Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project  also contributes directly into the implementation of the Vulture Multi-Species Action Plan by carrying out anti-poisoning actions in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece and Macedonia, and is building on our work for the last decade in the Balkans thorugh the Balkan Vulture Action Plan

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