The impact of the illegal use of poison baits on Greek biodiversity (2000-2016): new scientific paper

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HOS antipoison dog unit. Photo: D. Vavylis/HOS

A new scientific paper exploring various aspects of the poison bait use in our country and its impact on biodiversity was published in the international journal Environmental Monitoring and Assessment. The data was collected and analyzed in the framework of the LIFE+ Project "The Return of the Neophron", -that ended in December 2016-, by a team of scientists from various Greek environmental NGOs and institutions collaborating together in the Anti-Poison Task Force.

Although their use is explicitly forbidden, poison baits continue to be a widespread and deeply rooted practice that has a major impact on wildlife, especially on scavengers such as vultures and other carnivores such as brown bears, wolves, foxes, etc. Dogs are also victims of this gruesome practice, either stray, domestic or working (namely shepherd and  hunting dogs).

This paper analyzes data from 1,015 poisoning incidents that took place in the Greek countryside from 2000 until 2016 and resulted in the death of 3,248 animals. It is worth mentioning that the data were provided by the Task Force members and concern only the regions where the members worked. The purpose of the study was to try to provide an answer to various questions about this illegal practice, such as the causes (which are the motives behind poison bait use?), the perpetrators (who are they?), the victims (which species are most affected?), or what substances are used (which toxic substances are used in poison baits?), but also to suggest any possible solutions to this bane.
It is worth to highlight some of the research’s most interesting results: excluding insects and unidentified animals, 33.5% of the wildlife victims were avian scavenger species, a fact that proves that poison baits are responsible, to a very large extent, for the rapid decline which these species have suffered in recent years, something especially true in the case of the four species of vultures that occur in Greece. It is also noteworthy that almost 40% of all poisoned animals were dogs, mainly working dogs, which shows that poison baits do not only impact negatively on wildlife and biodiversity but also on the economic activity of rural areas.

Regarding the motives behind the use of poison baits, although in most cases the motive was not known (58.7%), when it was, the most common reason (56.1%) seemed to be disputes between land users (e.g. amongst livestock breeders and hunters or neighboring livestock breeders). It also appeared that only 15.4% of the cases targeted large carnivores due to livestock losses (e.g. livestock predated by wolves or beehives destroyed by bears). In addition, this study reveals the widespread action of a black market of illegal pesticides in Greece, as the most common active substances found in poison baits, apart from Methomyl (which is legal only in a specific form), were other banned carbamates such as Carbofuran and organochlorides such as Endosulfan.

Finally, a remarkable conclusion was that only 26.6% of the poisoning events were reported to the competent authorities. This may indicate, on the one hand, that the illegal use of poison baits is not regarded as a crime by local communities, -who seem to show a tremendous tolerance towards this type of incidents-, and on the other, a possible lack of confidence in the prosecution authorities responsible for the effective management of such poisoning events.

Finally, the authors of the paper propose some measures to confront the phenomenon, being the establishment of a clear legal framework in the form of a National Action Plan for the prevention of poison use in Greece their essential pillar.

The full paper is available HERE.

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