The survey on the use of poison baits was conducted in seven regions in southern Albania: Pogradec, Korçë, Kolonjë, Përmet, Gjirokastër, Tepelenë, and Sarandë in 2019. The selection of these areas was based on high concentration of livestock, which increases the probability of poison bait usage, and proximity to Egyptian Vulture breeding territories, the countries’ only breeding vulture species, whose population decline throughout the Balkan region is mainly caused by wildlife poisoning.
Our partners from the Albanian Ornithological Society (AOS) have within their Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project Small Grant conducted this survey with a goal to investigate the scale, root causes and consequences of poison baits use in the regions where the interviews were conducted. Interviews were conducted with shepherds, farmers, locals, and veterinary & agricultural pharmacies.
The questionnaires used for the interviews with the shepherds, farmers, and locals focused on bird identification knowledge of the interviewees, presence of the predators in these areas, damages inflicted by predators to livestock, compensation policies by the Albanian government, methods for control of predators. The questionnaires used for the interviews with the agricultural and veterinary pharmacies focused on listing most used pesticides and veterinary medical products (VMPs), frequency and methods of treatment with pesticides and VMPs treatment.
The data analyzed for the purpose of this reports is based on 158 questionnaires, from which 153 questionnaires are completed through interviewing shepherds, farmers, and locals and 5 questionnaires are completed through interviewing veterinary and agricultural pharmacies. The interviewees belong to the age group 20-80 years old and represent both sexes: female and male, where men represent the majority with 88%.
Predators and damages they inflict on livestock breeders
According to the interviewees, bears, wolves, and foxes are the main predators that are inflicting damages to livestock breeders in the researched areas. The presence of predators in the areas where the interviews were conducted is closely related to the presence of livestock. Thus, in Pogradec, Korçë, and Kolonjë some of the interviewees said that there was a decrease in the number of predators as a result of the decrease in the number of livestock. Meanwhile, in Përmet, Gjirokastër, Tepelenë, and Sarandë where the numbers of livestock are high, the interviewees highlight that the number of predators (mainly wolves and foxes) has been increasing significantly. Also, as a result of a hunting moratorium, which is in force in Albania for the last 5 years, there is no more control of predator populations.
The biggest damages to livestock from predators are caused by wolves, due to their wider distribution, mainly in herds with a large number of livestock, in which it is difficult to safeguard and control the whole herd and to a lesser extent by bears. Additionally, all surveyed areas have reported that conflicts with foxes are very common and that they inflict significant damages to poultry.
In all cases, there is no compensation by the Albanian government on the damages caused in livestock by predators. In many cases, the interviewees stated that they do not even receive the subsidies. Thus, the support of the Albanian government towards the shepherds seems to be minimal, or almost non-existent.
Documented methods of predator control
The most common method of guarding livestock against predators in Albania by far is the use of shepherd dogs to guard the herds, on average 4-5 dogs per herd, sometimes up to 10 dogs. However, the shepherds themselves have stated that in many cases, especially during summer when the livestock are in the mountains, the presence of dogs is almost useless in the face of predators. In these cases, shepherds rely on other methods to control predators. These methods include the use of firecrackers, used to mimic the sound of a gun, and therefore to scare and keep away the predators, employment of shepherds to maintain and safeguard the herds and construction of modern and safe stables, as well as keeping livestock mainly indoors, although it is not very convenient due to high costs.
Shooting is confirmed by circa 19% of the interviewees. Firearms are mainly used to scare predators. However, these animals are on occasion killed as well. The practice of shooting is rarely admitted by the interviewees because it contradicts the law of the hunting ban.
Another method, even less confirmed by the interviewees, is the use of poison baits. The use of poison baits is confirmed by circa 10 % of the interviewees. Meanwhile, there is another 10% of the interviewees who can be regarded as potential users. These individuals have indicated that they recognize the use of poison baits as a method to control predators but they do not use it because they fear the poisoning of their own dogs.
Poison baits are used not only against predators that cause damage to livestock, such as wolves and bears, but also against foxes that cause damage to poultry. It is also seen as a means of solving personal conflicts, for example, neighbours poisoning each other’s pets.
The use of traps as a method to control predators was confirmed by only a small percentage of interviewees and it seems it is not a widely used method, probably due to its low effectiveness.
During the conduction of this survey our partners managed to find an interesting discovery related to the substance which is apparently being commonly used for wildlife poisoning in Albania. The substance is traditionally known as “Selino” and is in the form of a yellow powder. After research with colleagues from the Tirana University of Agriculture, this chemical substance was recognized as 2,4-Dinitrophenol, a compound of Dinitrophenols which represent highly toxic substances, characterized by a lack of selective toxicity. These substances are categorized among the strongest substances that cause hyperthermia. The clinical signs are fever, difficulty breathing, acidosis, muscle weakness, tachycardia, muscle spasms, which are followed by coma or rapid death. This substance belongs to the group of herbicides and it is prohibited to be imported or traded within the territory of the Republic of Albania, although it is reported that it is widely used in rural areas throughout Albania for years.
The Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project Small Grants
The Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project Small Grants Programme is the first time we at the Vulture Conservation Foundation have run a grant programme, and with this we aim to reinforce national capacities within relevant governmental authorities and conservation NGOs from six countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, North Macedonia and Serbia) of the Balkan Peninsula. This work will support those organisations to improve the skills and capabilities in the detection and mitigation of poisoning incidents through the implementation of previously developed National Roadmaps and Strategies. More specifically, through these small grants we endeavor to secure the implementation of priority anti-poisoning actions listed in the National Anti-Poisoning Road-maps/Strategies, strengthen the capacities of relevant national governmental institutions in combating the illegal use of poison baits, improve the enforcement of relevant legislation and attract other funding opportunities for implementation of large-scale anti-poisoning projects in the region. Through the support of the MAVA Foundation, we managed to dedicate a budget of €60.000 for these small grants.
Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project
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 six 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, Društvo za zaštitu i proučavanje ptica Srbije.
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, North Macedonia and Serbia, and is building on our work for the last decade in the Balkans through the Balkan Vulture Action Plan.