Illegal wildlife poisoning affects biodiversity in the Balkans, yet only 1% of cases go to court · Global Voices

Poisoned vulture in Bulgaria. Photo by Hristo Beshev from FWFF, used with permission.

This article was written by BalkanDetox LIFE Project† Modified version published with permission of Global Voices.

The illegal use of toxic substances in nature against “unwanted” animals affects biodiversity and threatens public health. Yet it continues unnoticed and unpunished. This is evidenced by the recent 2022 Balkan vultures toxicology study, carried out by the BalkanDetox LIFE project, funded by the European Union’s LIFE Program.

In the study period, from 2000 to 2020, 1046 cases of poisoning and alleged poisoning of wild animals were recorded in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, North Macedonia and Serbia. It appears that the main driver of poisonings is conflict with predators (mainly wolves, foxes, jackals and bears) due to the damage they can cause to livestock, agricultural production and wildlife in hunting grounds.

euroPantovich, BalkanDetox LIFE Project Coordinator, stated in a press release:

“This practice is not a solution to resolving conflicts between humans and wildlife. It A non-selective way to kill animals that also endangered species and Ignorant citizens, including children, are in danger.”

This is not the way to resolve conflicts between humans and animals. It is a non-selective way of killing animals that also endangers endangered species and unconscious civilians, including children.”

Carbamates, especially carbofuran, were detected in 1 in 2 cases of poisoning. Carbofuran is a prohibited pesticide harmful to public health. according to US National Center for Biotechnology Information Only a few milligrams can be fatal to humans “when ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. Contact can burn skin or eyes.”

A poisoned eagle in the Republic of North Macedonia. Image taken by Metodija Velevski of MES, and used with permission.

Flying slanderers often suffer the most from illegal poisoning of wild animals. One in four victims are vultures. From 2000 to 2020, 465 vultures perished in the Balkan Peninsula, including 47 vultures, 17 black vultures and bearded vultures.

The griffon eagle suffered more, with 400 individuals killed in 233 separate poisonings or alleged poisoning cases. The hawk and the red fox followed 392 individuals in 190 incidents and 389 individuals in 141 incidents, respectively.

Yovan Andewsky, Program Director Basics of Eagle Conservationexplained

It is estimated that 115 vultures are likely to be poisoned to death annually Throughout the Balkans if we take into account that less than 20% of poisoning incidents are detected and documented.”

“It is estimated that 115 vultures die every year from poisoning in the Balkans, considering that less than 20% of accidents are detected and recorded.”

The losses took a heavy toll on the numbers of vultures in the region and led to regional and local extinctions of certain species. Poisoning remains one of the biggest threats to vultures in the Balkan Peninsula and currently limits their recovery. This should be taken into account when planning conservation initiatives, particularly in evictions and reintroductions.

An urgent need to combat the poisoning of wild animals in the Balkans

The main challenges in effectively combating this problem in the Balkans are ignorance, insufficient participation of relevant government institutions, lack of clarity of legislation, and lack of resources and capacities.

The 2022 Balkan Vultures Toxicology Study indicates that:

This practice is illegal in Europe, including the Balkans, but is still in use by locals as a quick and inexpensive way to resolve conflicts with predators and other wildlife. The main motive for such extensive use of poison is the conflict between ranchers, hunters, farmers and predatory mammals, mainly wolves, but also jackals, foxes, stray dogs … Its widespread use was facilitated by poor enforcement of legislation, the black market for prohibited pesticides and the relative free availability of toxic substances on the market.

This practice is banned in Europe, including the Balkans, but it is still used by the local population as a quick and cheap solution to conflicts with predators and other wildlife. The main reason for the extensive use of poison is the conflict between ranchers, hunters, farmers and predators, especially wolves, but also jackals, foxes and wild / stray dogs. Their widespread use is facilitated by weak law enforcement, the illegal trade in banned pesticides and the relatively easy availability of toxins on the market.”

By the way, “it is not uncommon to use illegal poisons as a means of settling various disputes and disagreements between people.”

In some Balkan countries, impunity for poisoning wildlife has recently become part of the public debate. In Albania, for example, it wasn’t considered a crime until 2019. The following short documentary, posted on YouTube by the Vulture Conservation Foundation, is about the past and present in the history of gaming poisoning in Albania.

Environmentalists who campaign to protect vultures and other animals want to raise awareness of the dangers of this practice by portraying it as a phenomenon that is socially unacceptable in the public eye.

They use different methods to get their message across, such as educational animation with the aim of spreading knowledge to both young and old:

Tackling wildlife poisoning requires a multidisciplinary approach and a concerted effort from many stakeholders.

The main aggravating conditions and obstacles to preventing and punishing wildlife poisoning are unclear legislation, weak law enforcement, low penalties, inadequate and unclear police protocols, and limited police capacity.

The BalkanDetox LIFE project aims to involve the relevant authorities. Through Wildlife Crime Academy and other training initiatives, they seek to increase their operational capabilities to improve investigation and management of poisoning incidents. The project calls for the development of more efficient and clear standardized protocols to describe responsibilities for reporting, investigating and dealing with wildlife poisonings, based on examples from other countries.

A poisoned golden eagle in Greece. Image of Lavrentis Sidiropoulos, used with permission.

For example, according to the survey conducted in the period 2000-2020, a total of 1046 cases of poisoning and alleged poisoning of wild animals were recorded in the countries covered by the survey on the Balkan Peninsula. More than half (55%) of these were in Greece and more than a quarter (28%) in Serbia. In both countries, local civil society organizations have made significant efforts to monitor cases of wildlife poisoning.

The study authors cautioned that the lack of data from other countries creates the illusion that this type of environmental crime is more common in Greece than in other countries. They noted that the number of accidents may be higher in other countries, but the lack of local research makes it less clear.

“The reality of wild animal poisoning is that if more effort is invested in research into its scope, more poisoning incidents will be detected. This is also true for the spatial distribution of poisoning incidents, thus areas where more efforts have been made in monitoring usually show a number of It is therefore very likely that the current situation of wildlife poisoning in the Balkans and in each individual country, which was the subject of this study, does not reflect the realistic situation and that a significant number of potential poisoning events remain unrecorded.†

“As more is invested in research into the extent of wildlife poisoning, more incidents will be discovered. This also applies to their spatial distribution. Areas with greater control usually show a higher figure. So it is very likely that the current status of wildlife poisoning in the Balkans And in each individual country included in the survey, it does not accurately reflect the reality and that a large number of poisoning cases have not been recorded.”

The project further calls for improved communication and information exchange between responsible institutions and sectors associated with the jurisdiction to expedite investigations and lawsuits into wildlife poisoning incidents.

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