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. Although Serbia is not officially included in the project, it is a key country for the perseverance and recovery of vulture populations in the region and is today's Country in Focus.
The use of poison in Serbia
Poisoning was identified as the main cause of disappearance and decline of vulture populations in Serbia from the late 19th to early 21st century, but poisoning incidents were poorly documented and recorded. The situation has improved over the last 18 years with poisoning and suspected poisoning incidents involving birds including vultures better documented and recorded by both the relevant governmental institutions and non-governmental organisations in the country.
In 2014 the Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia/BirdLife Serbia set up the the Bird Crime Task Force that actively works at detecting and reporting all incidents associated to illegal killing including poisoning of wild birds, developing a database for keeping records of individual poisoning incidents a and their associated legal proceedings and helping to understand the severity of the poisoning situation in Serbia.
This data was made available in their recent report Report on illegal shooting, poisoning, trapping, possessing and trade of wild birds in the Republic of Serbia for the period 2000-2017 (Ružić et al 2017).
There has not been a recorded incident of vulture poisoning in Serbia for the past 10 years with the last known case of vulture poisoning (six poisoned Griffon Vultures) in the country recorded in 2008 in Trešnjica gorge, near the breeding colony of the species.
Why is poison used in Serbia?
Like elsewhere across the Balkan Peninsula the practice of wildlife poisoning in Serbia was used predominantly to resolve conflicts between livestock owners and wild predators such as wolves as well controlling stray and feral dog populations. Between 1947 and 1976 this devastated the vulture population who were unintended victims of the practice leading to all four species to disappear from the country, in 1959 alone 700 Griffon Vultures were killed. By 1975 the use of poison to kill wolves and other carnivores was made illegal but the practice still continued. Despite no reported incidents of vultures being poisoned in the last 10 years illegal wildlife poisoning still poses a threat in Serbia as it is still practiced to kill birds especially in the vicinity of commercial hunting grounds.
Fighting poison in Serbia
Serbia has good national legislation in place related to the use of poison substances in the natural environment, where wildlife poisoning is clearly defined as an illegal activity, punishable under Criminal law. Governmental engagement in the conservation of the last breeding colonies of Griffon Vultures in Serbia, which were facing extinction due to illegal wildlife poisoning during the 80s and 90s, was crucial for the survival of the species. Special nature reserves were created, supplementary feeding stations providing providing safe food were established, public awareness campaigns and monitoring has been conducted by both governmental and non-governmental sector by organisations such as the Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia greatly contributed to eliminating poison bait use in the region of the country where vultures were still present.
Vultures in Serbia
Until the 1960s all four European vulture species bred in Serbia. The last two breeding pairs of Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) were recorded on Suva Mountain between 1999–2004. whilst the last breeding pair of Bearded Vultures was recorded at Šara Mountain during 1954–1955 and the Cinereous Vulture was last recorded breeding in the 1960s, although they are occassionally spotted in the country. Today, Serbia is home to just the Griffon Vulture which in 1992 was down to just 10 pairs in the country, since then the species has made a remarkable comeback and now numbers around 120 breeding pairs found in three locations in western and southwestern parts of the country, in the Trešnjica, Uvac and Mileševka gorges.
The 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.