Interview with Beatriz Sanchez from SEO/BirdLife Spain about illegal raptor poisoning in Spain

Date of the interview: 30 August 2010

Beatriz Sanchez

Beatriz Sanchez

Illegal poisoning of raptors is a serious problem across Europe. No matter if it is Common Buzzards in Germany, Eastern Imperial Eagles in Austria and Hungary or Golden Eagles in Scotland. Poisoning is a threat to many raptor populations or to their recovery.

In this interview Beatriz Sanchez from SEO/BirdLife Spain talks about the illegal poisoning of raptors in Spain, why this occurs and what can be done to stop it.
Beatriz also gives details about a new Life Project, called “Action in the fight against illegal poison use in the natural environment in Spain (LIFE08 NAT/E/000062)”

Markus Jais: Illegal poisoning is a serious conservation problem in Spain. What species are affected by illegal poisoning and how many of each animal species are killed?
Beatriz Sanchez: Illegal poisoning is one of the main causes of non-natural mortality in some of the most endangered species in Europe, such as Spanish Imperial Eagle, Red Kite, Bearded Vulture, or Egyptian Vulture (including the Canary Islands’ subspecies), all of which are included in Annex I of the Birds Directive and in Annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive.
The Red Data Book of Spanish Birds (Libro Rojo de las Aves de España) highlights this problem as the main threat to seven endangered species protected by the Birds and Habitat Directives.From 1990 to 2005 the following birds were victims of poison in Spain: 79 Spanish Imperial Eagles, 354 Black Vultures, 144 Egyptian Vultures, 16 Bearded Vultures, 435 Red Kites, 841 Griffon Vultures and 18 Bonelli’s Eagles.
During 2010, 8 Spanish imperial eagle, 10 Black vultures and 19 Red kites have already been found poisoned. But sure that the real figures are much greater because only a small percentage of animals that die of poisoning are found.

Poisoned Spanish Imperial Eagle

Poisoned Spanish Imperial Eagle
© Fernando Saura

Markus Jais: Illegal poisoning is, together with electrocution, one of the most serious threats to the endangered Spanish Imperial Eagle? How many are killed each year by poisoning and how does this affect the population development of the species?
Beatriz Sanchez: Today illegal poisoning and electrocution are the main causes of mortality for the Spanish imperial eagle. From 1989 to 2004, 74 birds were found dead from poisoning and 115 from electrocution, but it seems that the incidence of poisoning in these figures do certainly not reflect what really happens because it is much easier to find a bird that died from electrocution than from poisoning.

Illegal poisoning was identified in the Red Data Book of 2004 as the main cause of mortality of this endangered specie and experts say that the decline of some nuclei imperial eagle breeding can be explained by the increased use of poison deaths in these areas.
Poisoning affects more adults and sub adults than juveniles, what has worse consequences for the population development of the species.
This year (2010) the incidence of the poison is being particularly devastating for the species since there have been already been found poisoned seven Spanish Imperial Eagles until the month of July.

Cinereous Vulture

Cinereous Vulture
© Tatavasco

Markus Jais: Who is putting out the poison and why are people doing this?
Beatriz Sanchez: The use of poisoned baits to eliminate predators is an activity documented in Spain for more than one century, which still was authorized until 1983. It is clearly linked to four kinds of activities: hunting, cattle raising and control of wild dogs and cats and, to a lesser degree, agriculture.As regards to hunting, poison has been traditionally used to kill predators of the species which may be hunted (especially rabbits and partridges). Its use has increased in recent years mainly due to the wide availability of substances used to prepare the baits, ease of use compared to other control systems, the broad impunity, as well as some degree of tolerance.

Regarding livestock, the poison has been used mainly for the protection of cattle against large predators like the wolf. In recent years this use has grown, both associated with expansion the wolf in certain areas of the country as well as with the increase of poor livestock management practices that favor attacks from foxes and other species. Obvious in both causes is the lack of management plans and effective deterrents.
Neither can we ignore the new phenomenon of damage to scavenger species from the recent unavailability of livestock carcasses, caused by the regulations crisis arising from the Spongiform Disease Encephalopathy (BSE). Nor should we forget that the agricultural use of pesticides for the protection of certain crops and orchards no doubt increased the availability of toxic products to farmers.

Markus Jais: How is the legal situation?
Beatriz Sanchez: Poisoning is an illegal activity since 1989 and it is a crime under the 1995 Criminal Code (article 336). In addition, it violates national and regional laws or dispositions that protect the species of wild fauna, as national Law 42/2007, so it is also an administrative infringement.

informing about poison

Workshop on action plans and protocols about poisoning held in June 2010 in Segovia.
© SEO/BirdLife

Markus Jais: Is it legal to control predators like foxes or martens with poison? If so, are there alternatives to using poison?
Beatriz Sanchez: The control of predators is an activity ruled by national law that should be authorized by the autonomous region governments. The national government has to approve the methods of capture for the species, on the basis of selectivity and animal welfare standards set by international agreements, but poisoning is a prohibited method so it should not be authorized and there should be not alternatives to it.Markus Jais: Is it possible to take away hunting licenses if a hunter poisons protected species?
Beatriz Sanchez: Yes, it is. National Law 42/2007 establishes that public authorities may suspend all or part the hunting rights if hunting management would adversely affect the renewal or sustainability of resources, and some regional hunt and wildlife protection laws also do so.

Markus Jais: Are cases of poisoning investigated and the responsible people persecuted?  How hard is it to find the ones who are responsible for the illegal poisoning of raptors?
Beatriz Sanchez: One of the main reasons that the use of poison continues, although it is a crime, is precisely the lack of investigation of cases, which means that people who commit such crimes remain unpunished. The characteristic of this crime, which is discussed in the solitude of the country, makes it difficult to find the culprits. In addition, many cases of poisoning never even come to know, since there are still little effort devoted to the work of detecting such crimes.

Public authorities are increasingly aware of the importance of combating poisoning, but the means and resources spent in Spain are still insufficient.
In the province of Lérida (Catalonia) there is a specialized patrol of rural agents dedicated exclusively to investigate cases of poisoning. Under the LIFE + project developed by SEO/BirdLife, the Junta de Castilla-La Mancha and the Black Vulture Conservation Foundation, we have created in 2010 two similar patrols in Castilla-La Mancha. We hope that these patrols obtain very good results and this work, that has been so successful in the province of Lérida, is replicated in the rest of the autonomous communities.

Healthy Spanish Imperial Eagle

Healthy Spanish Imperial Eagle. Mongfragüe National Park.
© Markus Jais

Markus Jais: Should the legal punishment be harder and what other ways to exist do reduce this serious problem?
Beatriz Sanchez: Rather than this, it is necessary to enforce the existing ones. However, it has shown in Spain that regions with policy tools and a plan or strategy against poisoning are those that have done better. Thus, one of the most important goals of the Life + project mentioned above is the development of regional plans and protocols against poison.

Markus Jais: SEO/BirdLife Spain and others started a new Life project “Action in the fight against illegal poison use in the natural environment in Spain (LIFE08 NAT/E/000062)”. What is the project all about and who is involved?
Beatriz Sanchez: The main goal this project is to achieve a significant reduction in illegal poison use and illegal poison incidents that affect protected species in Spain.
Overall project goals aim to make an important contributions to Spain’s national strategy against the use of poisoned bait in the natural environment, approved by the National Commission for Nature Protection. Expected results include:

  • Reduction in the illegal use of poisons for predator control, particularly in sites covered by Spain’s SPA network;
  • Approval of regional action plans and protocols to help authorities tackle illegal use of poisons for predator control;
  • Introduction and maintenance of new specialized control patrols that will serve as a model for similar species protection initiatives;
  • Increased public support for the prevention of illegal poison use in predator control; and
  • More controls on the sale of licensed toxic products.

Coordinated by SEO / BirdLife, the project beneficiaries associated with the project are the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) and the Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha. Co-financiers of the project are the Ministry of the Environment and Rural and Marine Biodiversity Foundation, the Cabildo of Fuerteventura, the Governments of Andalusia and Cantabria. América Ibérica, a publishing company collaborates with the project and twelve autonomous communities and other Canary councils also do.Markus Jais: What else is SEO/BirdLife Spain doing against illegal poisoning?
Beatriz Sanchez: SEO/BirdLife takes part in the Antidoto Program together with another seven Non-Governmental organisations, since it’s start in 1997.

Markus Jais: What do you recommend other institutions and individuals who are fighting illegal poisoning in their countries?
Beatriz Sanchez: First, it is important to know the real extent of the problem and investigate the causes of why poison is still used. It is a very complicated problem in which economic interests and social issues converge, so it is important to work together with all parties involved in it.

Markus Jais: How can people help SEO/BirdLife Spain to fight illegal poisoning?
Beatriz Sanchez: People can join the Network of volunteers against wildlife poisoning that has been created under the Life + project and can also join us as members of SEO/BirdLife.

Markus Jais: Beatriz, thank you very much for the interview.

Further Information

SEO/BirdLife SpainLife + “Acciones para la lucha contra el uso ilegal de veneno en España”

Life + “Action in the fight against illegal poison use in the natural environment in Spain”