A few days ago, government institutions and non-governmental organisations joined forces to develop a strategy to fight illegal wildlife poisoning. This strategy will be one of the most important national strategies for the conservation of biodiversity and endangered species for the Bulgaria - that of combating the illegal use of poisons and poison baits in nature. Between 26-27 November, a workshop was held in Sofia among institutions and environmental NGOs to develop a strategy to find the best options for combating one of the biggest threats to wildlife, which poses an enormous risk to people as well.
Outcomes of the meeting
The meeting was opened by Deputy Minister of Environment and Water Krasimir Zhivkov, who expressed recognition of the need and support of MoEW for this initiative. The first step in developing the national strategy was to analyse the available information on the use of poisons and poisonous baits, as well as the effects of these practices on the biodiversity in the country. The results of the discussion served to identify the main problems, namely: illegal import of plant protection products (PPPs); misuse of dangerous PPPs in intensive agriculture; unregulated storage of hazardous PPPs (old stocks and warehouses); the illegal use of legal PPPs for poison baits, mainly in connection with the human-predator conflict; poor detection and difficult demonstrability of the offender in poisoning; and the risk of lead poisoning. The roots of many of these problems are related to the lack of recognition of the problem of poisons as significant, both by the responsible institutions and by society.
Other identified direct or indirect causes of the poison problem are the lack of good coordination and clear responsibilities for action, sufficient commitment, capacity, financial and human resources; lack of good control over access to purchase and use of dangerous PPPs; non-implementation of effective preventive measures to mitigate the damage caused by predators (including stray dogs); gaps in national legislation. Based on the identified problems and the reasons for them, adequate activities have been designed to be included in the strategy.
Other important outcomes of the meeting are the conception of a national working group to implement the strategy and develop a protocol for action in cases of poisoning. This document clearly describes the steps and actions that need to be taken, as well as the responsibilities of the various institutions involved.
During his presentation, Jovan Andevski, our Programmes Manager, pointed out "Bulgaria is one of the best examples of effective environmental protection at the Balkan level and a leading country in the region in dealing with some of the most endangered animals on the planet - the vultures. I am truly happy to see and directly participate in a joint process between institutions and the non-governmental sector to develop a national poison control strategy - an important missing element for the effective conservation of biodiversity in the country."
The danger of illegal wildlife poisoning
The illegal use of poisons and poisonous baits against predators causes irreparable damage, especially to populations of predatory birds, including endangered species such as the Egyptian Vulture and the Imperial Eagle. The most recent reported case of the poisoning of protected species was in September when eight Griffon Vultures and one Golden Eagle were poisoned in the Svoge region, and over 30 Griffon Vultures were poisoned in the Kresna Gorge in March 2017. In 2016 near Strazhets village series of poisoning incidents have been reported, killing over 20 wild and domestic animals. In these cases, it is noticed that there is a lack of good synchronisation between the various institutions responsible for ensuring proper sampling on the ground, securing the areas around poison baits, collecting carcasses of poisoned animals to prevent secondary poisoning, analysing the collected samples for identification of the poisonous substances and identification of the perpetrators.
How we are fighting illegal wildlife poisoning
At the VCF, we fight illegal wildlife poisoning in the Balkans head-on with the Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project. It is a cross-border initiative, funded by the MAVA Foundation, bringing together wildlife conservation organisations, governmental agencies and other stakeholder such as; hunting associations, farmers and scientists, in six Balkan countries to tackle illegal wildlife poisoning.
The organiser of the meeting is the BSPB within the framework of the LIFE projects "Conservation of black and griffon vultures in the cross-border Rhodope mountains" and "Egyptian Vulture New LIFE". Among the main participants are representatives of the Ministry of Environment and Water, Executive Environment Agency, Ministry of Interior, Regional Directorate for Food Safety, National Diagnostic Veterinary Research Institute, Union of Hunters and Fishermen in Bulgaria, , IBEI – BAS, BPPS, Green Balkans, FWFF, VCF, the Association of Parks in Bulgaria, Balkani Wildlife Society, Rewilding Rhodopes Foundation, Four Paws, Thracian and Agrarian Universities.
Source: BSPB article
Starting in 2016, the five-year LIFE RE-Vultures project was developed by Rewilding Europe, in collaboration with the Rewilding Rhodopes Foundation the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds, WWF Greece, the Hellenic Ornithological Society and us here at the Vulture Conservation Foundation. The aim of the project is to support the recovery and further expansion of the populations of Cinereous and Griffon Vultures in the cross-border region of the Rhodope Mountain by improving natural prey availability, monitoring movements of birds to help understand the threats they face and carrying out activities that will reduce the mortality of the populations from threats such as illegal wildlife poisoning and collisions with electricity infrastructure.
Egyptian Vulture New LIFE
Working collaboratively projects like the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE aims to reinforce the Egyptian vulture population in their Europe’s easternmost range across the Balkans. By actively managing and restocking the population by releasing captive-bred birds the project will support the small Balkan population which number between 60 and 80 pairs across the whole region. The project is working to deliver conservation measures that eliminate major known threats such as illegal poisoning and electrocution in their summer breeding grounds. Monitoring the population closely using GPS transmitters will also help the project tackle the major threats Egyptian vultures face. The Egyptian Vulture New LIFE is a partnership of organisations, led by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds from 14 countries spanning Europe, the Middle East and Africa, to protect Egyptian vultures not only in Europe but all along their migratory flyway.