As our three day Balkan Vulture Anti-Poisoning workshop with governmental agencies and non-governmental organisation from right across the Balkans came to a close on Wednesday our colleagues from across Portugal signed a new agreement as part of the Antidote Programme reaffirming their commitment to tackling illegal wildlife poisoning in the country.
Coming together to tackle illegal wildlife poisoning
In a ceremony at the Attorney General's Office in Lisbon nine different wildlife conservation organisations including; the Institute of Nature Conservation and Forests (ICNF), the Office of the Attorney General and the National Institute of Agrarian and Veterinary Research, universities of Lisbon, Évora and Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro and two non-governmental organizations, Quercus - National Association for Nature Conservation and Aledia, which is responsible for the management of several wildlife recovery centers, signed a partnership agreement for a revised and improved Antidote Programme.
The Antidote Programme
Following a series of high profile wildlife poisoning cases in the early 2000s including one of Portugal’s worst recorded incidents in 2003 at Idanha-a-Nova, where 33 Griffon Vultures, three Cinereous Vultures and three Royal Kites were poisoned after feeding on a sheep laced with poison that was being used to control feral dogs, the Antidote Programme was launched.
Inspired by a similar programme running in Spain, the Portuguese Antidote Programme was set-up with the signing of the Lisbon Declaration in January 2004 that for the first time defined a National Strategy to understand the extent of poison use in Portugal and to establish measures to control the illegal practice.
The data collected through the Antidote Programme estimated that 145 individuals of protected species including Cinereous Vultures were poisoned between 2003 and 2014 in Portugal, with the real figure believed to be significantly higher as only 10% of the animals that are victims of the poisoned baits are detected,.
The New Antidote Programme protocol
The agreement signed this week by the leading governmental agencies and non-governmental conservation organisations agrees the implementation of a new Protocol of Action of procedures to be followed in cases where wild animals, dead or injured, are suspected of being poisoned in a natural environment. In addition, it creates the National Network of Necropsy and Toxicology Centres, to improve the operation of the expert examinations.
"This protocol is born of the efforts of many entities that for many years have been giving their attention so that this truly important issue is brought together in a collective effort of more ambition, but also of greater responsibility, of each of those involved," said Rogério Rodrigues , chairman of the ICNF board.
The National Network of Necropsy and Toxicology Centres is also set up, consisting of eight centres that will perform post-postmortems on poisoned wild animals and two toxicology laboratories, which will determine which substances are used.
This information, as well as the evidence collected on the ground by elements of the GNR, will be crucial for the subsequent work of the Public Prosecution Service, to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice.
"I think we are to be congratulated today, after so many years," Samuel Infante, a conservationist at Quercus and one of the people responsible for the creation of the Antidote Portugal Program in 2004.
"Ten years ago, Portugal had no specific means to prospect for signs of poisoning. There are now at least four GNR equipment in the field when there are cases of poisoning. The issue of wild animal poisoning is urgent. Legislation already exists, the important thing now is to be able to apply it in the best way. " According to Joaquim Teodósio, responsible for the Terrestrial Program of the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds (Spea),
This partnership agreement and reaffirmation by the Portuguese Government is a significant move and we here at the Vulture Conservation Foundation welcome the collaboration between the agencies involved in helping to protect vultures and wildlife in Portugal from the barbaric act of illegal wildlife poisoning.