Last week we 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 Croatia.
The use of poison in Croatia
The practice of illegal wildlife poisoning has had a significant impact on the populations of vultures in the country and has been attributed as the primary cause of the extinction of cinereous and Egyptian vultures in the country. Prohibited under the National Hunting Act in 1972, wildlife poisoning is estimated to have killed around 300-500 Griffon vultures over the last 50 years. Between 1985 and 2013 alone 159-190 Griffon vultures were killed as a result of poisoning.
Why is poison used in Croatia?
The primary cause of vulture mortality in Croatia is the use of poisoning to intentionally kill large carnivores such as jackals, wolves and bears. As the population of Griffon vultures declined and the colonies became restricted to the Kvarner Islands the situation became particularly acute for the country’s population when, in the 1980s hunters began introducing wild boar to the islands for hunting which has inflicted significant losses to the island’s livestock. Due to the poor enforcement of laws and the hunter’s refusal to remove the introduced species farmers began practicing wildlife poisoning leaving poisoned sheep carcassas, Griffon vultures’ main food source, in the wild.
Between 1996 and 2013 the Beli Rescue Centre for Griffon Vultures 157 Griffon vultures were rescued with symptoms associated with poisoning, 31 of which died, and 12 of them had significant neurological symptoms. In the same period, 59 vultures were found dead including 17 birds in the region’s worst mass poisoning incident on the island of Raab in 2004.
Thanks to the collaboration of non-governmental organisations and relevant governmental institutions in the country there are well documented and systematic records on the mortality of vultures. The toxicological analyisis of 39 percent of the birds found dead have also revealed the most commonly used toxic substances for wildlife poisoning, Carbofuran, Methomyl, Deltamethrin.
Fighting poisoning in Croatia
Croatia has good legislation in place related to the use of poison substances in the natural environment and wildlife poisoning is clearly defined as an illegal activity, punishable under Criminal law.
Between 2001 and 2010 the Birds of Prey Conservation Society Grifon focused their efforts on an anti-poisoning campaign, creating significant publicity and public awareness raising in order to address the issue with a variety of stakeholders such as non-governmental organisations for nature protection, shepherds, police, nature protection inspection and the Veterinary University in Zagreb. Work by Grifon during this 10 year period also focused on the removal of introduced species from the Kvarner islands with organisations working with farmers on the islands to pressure the Croatian government to act resulting in actions such as protests by shepherds from the Rab, Krk and Cres on the country's capital Rijeka.
Today a National Anti-Poison Working Group consisting of representatives from the Ministry of Environment and Energetics, Environmental Inspectorate, Croatian Agency for Environment and Nature, Ministry of Agriculture-Directorate for forestry and hunting, Centre for Forensic Research (within the Ministry of Internal Affairs), Veterinary Institute, Hunting Association of Croatia, Public Institution “Priroda” and Croatian Society for Protection of Birds and Nature are leading the work tackling the issue, planning concrete recommendations to fight illegal wildlife poisoning.
Vultures in Croatia
Of the four species of European vulture only the Griffon vulture today survives in Croatia. Both the cinereous and Egyptian vultures were breeding species in the country but as a result of the widespread practice of illegal wildlife poisoning they are both now extinct in Croatia. The Griffon vulture was once widespread across the country but today can only be found today on the Kvarner islands of Cres, Krk, Plavnik, Prvic and Rab. From a small population of around 60 pairs in the 1990s in 2017 the population consisted of around 108 breeding pairs.
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.