We recently published a 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 this practice. As part of the Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project we've been working with our partners to investigate the historic and current situation of the use of poison in each of the countries involved in the project. Today our Country in Focus is FYR Macedonia.
The use of poison in FYR Macedonia
State sponsored wildlife poisoning began in 1947 and even though it was banned in 1985 it is still widely practiced by livestock breeders and is responsible for the extinction of bearded and cinereous vultures in the country.
Wildlife poisoning caused the extinction of bearded vultures in not only FYR Macedonia but across the whole of the Balkan Peninsula as the country was home to the region’s last breeding pair and when the female was poisoned in 1985, the species was left with just a small isolated population on Crete.
The practice peaks around February and April each year in the important agricultural areas of Mariovo, Tikves, Ovce Pole and likely Plackovica Mt. and over the last 20 years around 21 incidents of poisoning have resulted in over 100 Griffon vultures and 10 Egyptian vultures have been poisoned.
Why is poison used in FYR Macedonia?
Institutions in FYR Macedonia keep records of all illegal wildlife poisoning incidents. The Macedonian Ecological Society and Aquilla Nature Conservation Association have not only kept records of poisoning and suspected poisoning incidents and mortality of birds of prey which occurred in the last 15 years but has compiled data regarding poisoning over the last 30 years. This information has helped identify the main drivers behind the use of illegal wildlife poisoning. As a result of the decades of state sponsored use of poison to control predators, in particular wolves, of livestock it would seem this is still the main reason behind the use of poisoning. This conflict is a result of an increasing wolf population in the country and the resulting increasing conflict with livestock breeders. This practice is also used to control feral and stray dogs in the country. The use of rodenticides to reduce rodent populations is also another driver of the use of poison. This practice is responsible for FYR Macedonia’s worst mass poisoning of vultures. In 1992 around 30 percent (60-70 birds) of the country’s population of Egyptian vultures were killed whilst migrating to the overwintering grounds
According to the few toxicological analyses of poisoned birds officially conducted, Methomyl is the most frequently used pesticide (fungicide) involved in wildlife poisoning with concentrations of 90 percent sold illegal on the market.
Fighting poison in FYR Macedonia
There is generally good laws protecting wildlife and vultures in FYR Macedonia, however, the poor enforcement of these is causing the practice to continue. Efforts to tackle the practice began in 2006 with a series of workshops held to inform environmental inspectors about the issue alongside awareness raising work in villages between 2006 and 2009 with livestock breeders given 15 shepherd dogs to help protect flocks in 2008. Anecdotally this work appeared to help vultures as the sharp decline seen in the previous three years was reversed.
Vultures in FYR Macedonia
Until the 1980s FYR Macedonia was home to all four species of European vultures. Today only Egyptian and Griffon vultures survive in FYR Macedonia and over the last 15 years both species have declined sharply as a result of poisoning and are in a perilous state. In 2003 the population of Egyptian vultures numbered around 47 pairs and was thought to be a stable regional stronghold for the species. However, a recent survey revealed the population was still in decline, declining 30 percent from 21-23 pairs in 2014 to an estimated 13-15 breeding pairs in 2018. The population of Griffon vultures in FYR Macedonia has fluctuated over the last 15 years suffering a steep decline from 26 pairs to just 12 paris between 2003 and 2003 before recovering as a result of anti-poisoning efforts between 2006 and 2008 to 21 pairs. But since 2010 the population has been in decline again and a survey in 2017 revealed just 8-10 pairs of Griffon vultures in the country.
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-AOS, Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania-PPNEA, Ornithological Society “Naše ptice”,Association BIOM, Hellenic 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.