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Strengthening wildlife crime prosecution: Hopeful step with new police sector in Bulgaria

Hope arises for stronger prosecution of illegal wildlife poisoning and other wildlife crimes in Bulgaria, as the country establishes a dedicated police sector within the Ministry of the Interior, a momentous leap forward in protecting wildlife and its natural heritage. The newly formed “Crimes against the Environment and Wildlife” sector, operating under the Economic Police Department of the General Directorate of the National Police, is set to combat various offences related to wildlife and environmental conservation.  

Addressing a range of environmental crimes 

The core objective of the “Crimes against the Environment and Wildlife” sector is to tackle an extensive array of offences outlined in Bulgaria’s Criminal Code. These encompass crimes against forests, game animals, fish, aquatic organisms, protected areas and habitats, protected species, and environmental pollution. Additionally, the new police sector in Bulgaria will oversee issues concerning waste management, hazardous substances, illegal wildlife poisoning, aquifer facilities, and the import and export of waste. By targeting these areas, Bulgaria aims to enforce its environmental laws more effectively and mitigate the threats posed to nature. 

Compliance with European Directives 

The establishment of this specialised sector aligns seamlessly with Directive 2008/99/EC of the European Parliament and the Council, enacted on November 19, 2008. This directive focuses on utilising criminal law to protect the environment. By creating the “Crimes against the Environment and Wildlife” police sector, Bulgaria underscores its dedication to fulfilling its obligations under European legislation and ensuring a harmonised approach to combatting environmental crimes. 

Collaborative efforts and advocacy in Bulgaria 

The formation of this new sector stands as the culmination of extensive collaboration between Bulgarian non-governmental organisations, including the Green Balkans and the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB), and government bodies such as the Ministry of Environment and Water and the Ministry of the Interior. 

The Green Balkans, particularly through its Wildlife Rehabilitation and Breeding Centre, has played an active role in assisting authorities in investigating and resolving cases related to crimes against protected species. Meanwhile, BSPB has actively supported capacity building within Bulgarian authorities, with their expert participating in the working group that assisted in establishing the new unit within the Ministry of Interior. The working group focused on developing standardised protocols to address abuse, infringement, and crimes against nature. It also facilitated the establishment of a coordinating body to provide timely and effective institutional and operational support, including enhancing information sharing between institutions. 

Promoting expertise with the Wildlife Crime Academy 

Wildlife Crime Academy participants from Bulgaria © VCF
Wildlife Crime Academy participants from Bulgaria © VCF

The fight against wildlife crime in Bulgaria is further bolstered by the Wildlife Crime Academy (WCA), organised by the Vulture Conservation Foundation and the Junta de Andalucía as part of the BalkanDetox LIFE project, co-funded by the European Union’s LIFE Programme. Through a series of three intensive training courses, the WCA equips professionals from diverse academic disciplines in conservation, law enforcement, and forensic science with the skills necessary to lead investigations, manage teams, and motivate stakeholders. The programme incorporates internationally recognised procedures, a specialist-designed syllabus, and expertise from professionals with over 15 years of experience, including contributions from Europol. The training received by Bulgarian professionals through the WCA, funded by BSPB within the LIFE for Falcons project, has created the first cohort of Wildlife Crime Investigation and Analysis experts in the country, with a mission to train their colleagues. This groundbreaking training is expected to have a significant impact on prosecuting and deterring wildlife criminals, reducing wildlife crimes, and protecting endangered species. 

A brighter future for Bulgaria’s biodiversity 

The establishment of a specialised sector in Bulgaria is pivotal in combatting wildlife crimes, preserving the environment, and strengthening conservation efforts. With expanded enforcement, enhanced coordination, and alignment with European directives, Bulgaria is poised to make significant strides. The collaborative efforts between non-governmental organisations and government entities underscore the importance of collective action in safeguarding natural resources. This development brings hope for a transition from individual concerns to a comprehensive framework for wildlife crime prevention. Offenders will be held accountable, ensuring a safer and more sustainable future for Bulgaria’s biodiversity. Furthermore, this achievement sets a commendable precedent for other Balkan nations and reaffirms Bulgaria’s commitment to preserving its distinctive ecosystems for future generations. 

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