Poison is killing Spanish wildlife, it’s official. According to a study carried out by Ecotoxicología, with figures confirmed by the government, the number of dead animals found is only the tip of the iceberg. The study has revealed that in the last 15 years almost 7,000 animals included in the National Catalogue of Endangered Species have perished even though the practice of setting poisoned bait in the countryside has been banned since 1983. In general terms of species affected, the bodies recovered account for only between 5% and 15% of the estimated total of deaths due to poison. The author of the study and director of a forensic wildlife laboratory, one of six such centres in Spain, Mauro Hernández says the figures represent the minimum amount of casualties. Every year at least 800 animals are admitted to his laboratory alone. In the case of the Spanish Imperial eagle, the study believes that for every bird found poisoned another possible nine could be undetected. The problem is proving a stumbling block for many recovery and reintroduction programmes.
The method of setting meat laced with poison is aimed at predators in competition with man such as foxes and wolves but is indiscriminate in its killing. Even a small quantity ingested can weaken an animal and leave it vulnerable to death by other means such as collision with traffic or overhead power cables, or drowning because one of the effects of the poisons most commonly used is severe thirst. Most recent cases have been the discoveries of a Lammergeier and an Iberian lynx, both in Andalucia.
As in a previous study by WWF/Adena, “Poison in Spain, 1990-2005“, the blame is mainly directed at a small proportion of the hunting and farming communities, the administrations of which are both trying to combat the problem from within. Temporary closure of hunting reserves where poison has been discovered has been found to be insufficient but stricter penalties should help. Two hunters were recently succesfully prosecuted and sentenced to two years in prison for setting poisoned bait on a hunting estate in Lérida, Catalunya. To supplement the national SOS Poison hotline campaign, a network of predator control managers is to be established. Let’s hope that tighter regulations on the selling of the noxious substances follow.
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More information from the Black Vulture Conservation Foundation.
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