The severe threats of illegal wildlife poisoning

Illegal wildlife poisoning represents one of the most urgent conservation issues of today. It has devastating effects on populations of numerous threatened species like birds of prey and vultures, leading to local and regional extinctions while also preventing the comeback of certain species. The use of poison baits is an illegal practice that also poses a danger to public health of both the perpetrator and unaware citizens, as they may easily come in contact with available pesticides and poisoned animals or baits in their communities.

Illegal wildlife poisoning is a silent killer

It is extremely difficult to control and prevent illegal wildlife poisoning in our environment since toxic substances can be easily obtained and used, which encourages preparators to exercise this highly damaging and illegal method of exterminating animals. Poisoning silently kills animals, as extremely small amounts can cause major deaths and only about 20% of incidents are ever recorded or reported.
© Game and Fauna Service

Illegal wildlife poisoning does not discriminate

The placement of poison baits in the open is a non-selective method for killing animals. This method does not discriminate as almost every domestic and wild animal that ingests poison baits dies. Scavengers like vultures and wolves can then feed on these poisoned carcasses and meet a tragic end themselves, with multiple species often falling victim to this highly damaging practice.

Illegal wildlife poisoning knows no borders

Wildlife knows no political borders, meaning that animals ingesting poison baits can sometimes travel to neighbouring countries, die there, potentially causing secondary poisoning and creating a vicious cycle. Furthermore, since poisoning is a common practice in all Balkan countries, with similar root causes, methods and substances used, illegal cross-border trade of banned substances poses a big problem.

The illegal use of poison baits in the Balkans affects numerous wildlife and domestic animals and poses the main threat to at least five Birds Directive species. These are the Egyptian Vulture, Cinereous Vulture, Bearded Vulture, Golden Eagle and White-tailed Eagle — all of them present and naturally occurring in the Balkan Peninsula.

This highly damaging practice continues to be the most critical threat to vultures in the Balkans and the current limiting factor for their recovery in the region. 

Poisoning and vultures in the Balkans

Poison is the single most important threat to vultures globally and in the Balkan Peninsula, contributing to the severe depletion of all the species in the region. Due to illegal wildlife poisoning, the Bearded Vulture and the Cinereous Vulture are now on the edge of regional extinction. The first one is only present in Crete, numbering around six breeding pairs. The second one only breeds in one colony at Dadia Forest in northeastern Greece with 30-35 pairs, and also regularly occurs in Bulgaria following the recent reintroduction efforts of the Vultures Back to LIFE project. The number of Egyptian Vultures has declined by more than 50% in the last ten years, currently totalling around 70 breeding pairs. The Griffon Vulture population has also depleted and the species disappeared from many countries, including Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro.

Based on the available data that the Vulture Conservation Foundation and partners have already compiled within the Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project, in the last 20 years, a total of 465 vultures have died from poisoning in the Balkans. The victims involved include 385 Griffon Vultures, 36 Egyptian Vultures, 12 Cinereous Vultures and one Bearded Vulture. These numbers are not estimates but concrete figures obtained from recording poisoning incidents in the region. Therefore, on average, 23 vultures are fatally poisoned annually on the Balkan peninsula. But when we take into account that approximately only 20% of poisoning incidents are ever discovered and documented, the reality appears to be bleaker.

“According to the Balkan Vultures Poison Study, an estimate of about 115 vultures are potentially being poisoned annually throughout the Balkans, which relates to about 8,5% of the population of all four vulture species currently present in the region.”

Since illegal wildlife poisoning is the most significant threat to vultures in the region, this factor must be taken into account when planning any conservation initiatives regarding the species. It is urgent to tackle illegal wildlife poisoning to prevent vulture mortality and help boost local populations, enabling the recovery of vulture species, which play an essential role in the ecosystem, providing environmental services that benefit the environment, other wildlife and society.

The BalkanDetox LIFE project strives to implement several actions to tackle illegal wildlife poisoning in the Balkans, which is one of the most important causes of mortality and population decline for numerous threatened and endangered species.



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