Poison is the main threat to vultures worldwide, as identified in the Vulture multi-Species Action Plan, a comprehensive strategic document that highlights priority for action for the conservation of 15 species of old world´s vultures, and that was recently adopted by the signatories of the Convention for Migratory Species (CMS).
As a consequence, many countries dedicate considerable resources to fight this threat. The EU LIFE budget for example funds anti-poisoning actions in many projects dedicated to vultures, including the LIFE UNDER GRIFFON WINGS.
Within this LIFE project the anti-poison Dog Unit of the Corpo Forestale was created at the beginning of 2016, along with a number of communication actions to raise awareness on the threat caused by the illegal use of poisoned baits. This brigade had now its first real-life test in the field: a livestock breeder from Laerru spread poisoned baits around his pastures, to kill predators such as foxes or martens, but instead poisoned fourteen domestic dogs, four cats, one wild boar, and five ravens. Almost all of these animals died.
The anti-poison Dog Unit was immediately called to the scene, and in the end the livestock breeder was usefully charged with a crime against biodiversity – the judicial process will now follow.
To achieve this persecution, a team of agents of the Corpo Forestale e di Vigilanza Ambientale (CFVA) and the German shepherd ‘King’ from the University of Sassari have conducted lengthy and complex investigations in close collaboration with the Prosecutor’s Office in Sassari.
The investigation was carried out with traditional investigative tools - search, testimony and so on – and the efforts of the dog ‘King’ in the detection of baits and poisons. Thanks to the collaboration of the ‘Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale della Sardegna’, who carried out the toxicological analyses on the poisoned animal carcasses and baits, it was possible to identify the poison used, which led the identification of the suspect.
The result of this investigation should serve as a powerful reminder that animal poisoning is a crime which is severely punishable by the current law, and that, most importantly, the use of poison in the countryside is useless to eliminate the predator problem and causes a long chain of deaths to many innocent animals.
This is the first successful prosecution within the LIFE project, although poisoning incidents have happened before in Sardinia and are one of the main reasons why griffon vultures are relatively rare on the island.
The overall aims of LIFE UNDER GRIFFON WINGS is to rescue the Sardinian griffon population from a critical demographic situation (around 130 individuals) by mitigating the main threats limiting its viability. The main actions are:
- create a network of feeding stations, which will guarantee enough food supply to the vulture population;
- create an anti-poison dog unit and developing a communication actions to raise awareness on the threat caused by the illegal use of poisoned baits;
- restocking program: the liberation of 60 griffon vultures from Spain to resolve the critical demographic situation of the population;
- mitigate human disturbance in the reproductive sites;
- reinforce the local wildlife rescue centre by equipping it with the facilities needed for the rehabilitation of large vultures.
The VCF supports this important conservation project which was developed by the University of Sassari in partnership with the Municipality of Bosa, the Forestry Agency and the Corpo Forestale di Vigilanza Ambientale. The project is implemented in collaboration with the regional Departments of Environmental Protection and Health, the Regional Natural Park of Porto Conte and the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale of Sardinia, the Junta de Andalucia and the VCF.
The VCF provides technical expertise and advice, while at the same time securing and transporting the griffon vultures that will be released in Sardinia. 41 vultures have already been transported to Sardinia and are waiting release.
Photo: LIFE Grifone