Illegal wildlife poisoning case reaches court trial in Croatia for the first time

28.07.2020

Photo: BIOM

In January 2020, an illegal wildlife poisoning incident has resulted in the death of several wild and domestic animals in Croatia. The competent authorities and organizations carried out a thorough investigation, and thanks to their efforts, justice might be served as for the first time in the country, a case relating to wildlife poisoning has reached court trial. 
 

Local hunters in the area of Mazin in the Lika region in Croatia found the carcasses of wolves and foxes, which died from feeding on two dead calves placed as poison baits in mid-January. Following this finding, the Association BIOM together with the local hunting society, the Inspectorate for nature conservation, the police and members of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Energy surveyed Mazin in Lika for signs of poisoning. The scene was characteristic of the deliberate poisoning of wild animals. In the immediate vicinity, the inspectors found dead wolves and foxes, with signs of diarrhea and vomiting, making it clear that they died from poisoning in severe torment.
 

Two weeks after the first findings, authorities discovered more poisoning victims. They found the carcass of a Golden eagle, which is a strictly protected species since there are only 25 to 30 pairs in Croatia. The search team also discovered crystals of Carbofuran poison and a dead cow only 20 meters away from the eagle and suspected that a local herder did this targeting wolves. The use of poison to kill livestock predators has been banned in all European countries since the 1980s, but alarmingly, it is still used in Croatia and other European countries.
 

Half a year later, on Thursday 16 July, the poisoning case reached court trials following the successful investigation by the authorities and relevant stakeholders. Our partners from Croatia, Association BIOM, informed about the successful ending of a police investigation and official criminal charges initiated against a 52 years old individual. According to police, livestock owner used poisonous substances and by doing that engaged in crimes related to illegal hunting and to the destruction of protected natural values. Although there is no Wildlife Crime Unit in Croatia, this poisoning event was handled in cooperation between the State Inspectorate, Ministry of Environment, Veterinary faculty, Croatian Veterinary Institute and the Forensic centre Ivan Vučetić. Many individuals gathered around unofficial National Anti-poisoning Working Group, originally established under the Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project project in 2018, contributed to the investigation.
 

Poisoning has been banned in all European countries since the 1980’s to protect animals, nature and humans. Unfortunately, it is still used in Croatia as a seemingly ‘quick and inexpensive solution’ for resolving human-wildlife conflicts (mostly wolves and eagles), and stray dogs or feral pigs in Croatia. Due to poor law enforcement and the easy procurement of toxic substances, this dangerous practice continues to be widespread in the country. To date, the most commonly used poisons in Croatia are Carbofuran and Methomyl. Even the smallest amount of Carbofuran can kill people who come in contact with it and has long been banned in the EU.
 

Only a few weeks ago in Bulgaria in the Eastern Rhodopes was registered another case of encroachment on a globally endangered species, with the main alleged reason - illegal use of poisonous baits for predators. A family of Egyptian vultures died in the Eastern Rhodopes in late June. The pair was one of the oldest and most productive pairs in the country, and this incident is a huge loss for the entire population of the species. We also remind you that in February, in another incident in a nearby area, a poisonous Griffon vulture was found, and in the following months, the corpses of two more Griffon vultures were found, which became victims of the poisons. Currently, our country is about to adopt one of the most important strategies for the conservation of biodiversity and endangered species - namely that of combating the illegal use of poisons and poison baits in nature. The strategy provides mechanisms for responding to cases of poisoning, the means of gathering evidence, the procedure, and responsibilities of the various institutions.