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. Our Country in Focus today is Greece.
The use of poison in Greece
After decades of state endorsed use of wildlife poisoning since 1939, the practice became illegal in 1993 after much pressure from environmental organisations, however, the use of poison baits is still a common practice in the Greek countryside. Just over 2018 we have seen the recent cases in the Meteora region which killed a wolf and the death earlier this year of at least three Griffon vultures in the Tzoumerka National Park in south western Greece and two cinereous vultures in Thrace at the beginning of the year. In total 44 Griffon vultures, six Egyptian vultures and three cinereous vultures have been found poisoned in Greece since 2012.
Why is poison used in Greece?
The use of poison baits in the natural environment is a year-round practice but there are. However, due to the seasonal variation there are mainly two peaks September – October likely to coincide with opening of the hunting season and in April after the end of the hunting season linked to fox extermination, it appears not to be a random and sensless act.
In a recent study it was found the majority of motives for using poisoning are largely unknown but only 10 percent were associated with conflict between stakeholders and mammalian carnivores, the use of poison is often used in disputes between landowners and farmers and between landowners and farmers and hunters, around 36 percent of the known cases.
Fighting poisoning in Greece
Unlike the majority of the countries from the region, Greece has invested significant efforts towards combating wildlife poisoning. Between 1990 and 2010 six different projects funded by the European Union's LIFE project carried out anti-poison work and campaigns to raise awareness of the threats posed by wildlife poisoning. In 2012 several environmental NGOs (ARCTUROS, Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature, Hellenic Ornithological Society, Callisto, WWF Greece and Hellenic Wildlife Care Association ANIMA) and the Natural History Museum of Crete created the Anti-Poison Task Force to promote proposals and institutional changes required to tackle the practice at a local and national level. Since 2014 as part of the Return of the Neophron LIFE funded conservation project the Hellenic Ornithological Society have coordinated the Task Force and managed the Poison Incidents Database which has been a valuable tool for combating wildlife poisoning as it lead to the identification of hot spots for poisoning and helps prioitise actions. Also under this project the Task Force created the a National Strategy Against Wildlife Poisoning for Greece, the only one in the region.
Amongst activities tackling wildlife poisoning NGOs in manage anti-poison canine detection units which between 2014-2017 they carried out 276 patrols, covering 623 km and detecting 127 poisoned animals and 133 poison baits in 70 of these patrols, which correspond to 56 poisoning incidents in central Greece and Thrace.
Vultures in Greece
The populations of the four species of vultures in Greece have declined dramatically over the last few decades and out of all the threats to vultures in Greece such as electrocution and collision with electricity infrastructures and reduced food availability, the main cause of this decline is illegal poisoning. Seven to eight pairs of bearded vulture can now only be found on the island of Crete, having gone extinct from mainland Greece. The distribution range of the cinereous vulture, is now restricted to a small area in Thrace numbering around 28-35 pairs, while the Egyptian vulture’s population has been reduced to just five breeding pairs. Finally, although the Griffon vulture seems to fare better, with populations increasing on Crete the mainland population has crashed, from around 400-500 pairs in the 1960s to just 20-30 in five isolated colonies.
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.