Four years ago, as a pilot measure led by BSPB within the LIFE RE-Vultures project, which conserves Griffon and Cinereous Vultures in Bulgaria, the first anti-poisoning dog unit (APDU) to combat poisonous baits in Bulgaria was established. The goal was to apply successful international experience using specially trained tracking dogs to track and locate poisons, poison baits and dead animals. The team also played a key role in helping competent authorities in investigating such serious crimes against nature.
Actions and results
In the autumn of 2016, after receiving official training in Hungary, Nikolay Terziev and his four-legged colleague, Bars the German Shepard, got to work. So far, the teams carried out more than 150 searches and patrols, finding more than 300 animal remains, not all associated with poisoning incidents. Most often, the animal died from other causes, including predation, electrocution, shooting or natural causes. The APDU travelled up to 1,200km while scouring various parts of the country, but most (80%) were in the Eastern Rhodopes, an important area for birds of prey in the Balkans. The APDU found 57 poisoned animals. However, 17 of these were rodents found dead in crop fields after treatment with rodenticides. They detected 40 illegally poisoned animals from 11 different species, confirming the non-selective nature of poisonous baits and many "indirect" victims. More specifically, 7 were vultures (Griffon Vultures and Egyptian Vultures), comprising 17.5% of all animals found. The most common victims were wolves and domestic dogs, comprising 22.5% and 20% respectively of all poisoned animals found.
Poisoning is a big problem
The team's work proved that in Bulgarian, as in many countries, the main causes of the crime of illegal wildlife poisoning are driven from human-human and human-predator conflicts. Catching the perpetrators poses a big challenge for Bulgaria. Carbofuran and Methomyl were identified as the main poison substances used in the investigated cases. Even though such substances are prohibited for commercial sales, restricting access to them is another big challenge since several toxic substances are illegally imported and fall into the wrong hands. Sadly, all of the eight poisoning cases where a police investigation launched were terminated due to lack of evidences or suspects, leaving the preparators unpunished for the serious crimes.
Recommendations for future work
The APDU's work has proven to be an effective measure for locating and investigating poisonous incidents in the wild. However, resolving the problem requires serious additional efforts and commitment on the part of all responsible institutions in view of the shortcomings that exist in the investigation of these cases, so the project team makes these recommendations for future work:
More details about the work of the APDU is available in the report "Anti-poison dog unit operation in Bulgaria".
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.