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LIFE's ANTIDOTO project: a new strategy against the poisoning of large carnivores and raptors

(picture by Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise National Park) Poisoned wolf
(picture by "Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise"
National Park)

Hard hitting communication tools and innovative use of dogs in poison detection teams are helping protect engendered species like bears, wolves and raptors through a LIFE project running in Italy and Spain.

Release of the new Communication from the Commission: Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 (COM (2011) 244) reinforces the Union’s emphasis on protecting its wildlife. The impact of the proposals set out in this Communication will have far reaching implications across the Member States. These include stepping up efforts to reduce biodiversity threats and the Communication will bolster the activities of many different LIFE project operations in this field.

One such example is an ongoing transnational project in Italy and Spain which is putting in place measures to prevent the poisoning of large carnivores and raptors. LIFE’s (LIFE07/NAT/IT/000436) ANTIDOTO project is rolling out integrated approaches to the problem that strengthen the ability of authorities to identify and control poison incidents, as well as build up stakeholder support for stigmatising and halting poisoning practices.

ANTIDOTO’s joined-up actions are targeting stakeholders and assisting authorities in Italy’s Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park, as well as the Spanish Regions of Andalusia and Aragon. Starting in January 2009 and finishing in December 2013, this LIFE project has been allocated some €705 000 of EU co-finance for its innovative measures in the fight against illegal use of poisons.

Innovative actions

Core project activity revolves around training and applying new anti-poison dog units. Two units are working in the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park and another one has been established in the Aragon Region. An existing unit already operates in Andalusia and it was here where the new LIFE dogs were trained. Each unit contains two or three dogs which are accompanied by a dog-handler from the Park authority. Their role involves patrolling the project territory to locate potential poisoned baits or corpses of wild or domestic animals killed by suspicious poisoning.

(Photo: LIFE07/NAT/IT/000436) A trained Labrador
finding of a poisoned fox
(Photo: LIFE07/NAT/IT/000436)

Dogs can detect a number of different poisons and the unit is supported by a back-up team which has been organised by the project. This wider part of the LIFE project partnership brings in police investigators and vets specialised in poison diagnostics. Between them, the dog unit and follow-up team significantly strengthen the authorities’ capacity to detect and enforce illegal poisoning incidents.

In addition to this institutional support, LIFE funds are also being used by the project to address another part of the anti-poison challenge – that being reducing the actual practice of laying poisoned baits. Various information campaigns are underway and in the pipeline. These aim to shock the public into supporting anti-poisoning efforts and shame the users of baits.

Project communication material highlights the fact that, “Poisoning kills indiscriminately and causes unspeakable suffering.” Hard hitting messages go further and stress that, “Poisoning is not selective: it kills without distinction. It kills dogs out for a walk with their owners, as well as a huge number of protected animal species, large or small, rare or otherwise: bears, wolves, foxes, various birds of prey but also hedgehogs, badgers, squirrels and even toads. Only a tiny percentage of the animals which die of poisoning are ever found, so the true nature of the massacre is seldom clear.”

Communication therefore remains a vital tool in the project’s fight against illegal poisoning and information is being disseminated about the effects of poisoning on wildlife. Strychnine poison is highlighted as a banned substance yet noted as still being found to cause, “convulsions and muscular contractions followed by a rapid death through asphyxia, the victim remaining conscious throughout. A terrible way to end a life.”

Multiplier effects

Findings from the LIFE project will be collated in a technical manual about using dog detection teams to tackle poison baits, and this is expected to have a beneficial multiplier effect around the EU.

More information about the worthy work being carried out by ANTIDOTO can be found on the LIFE project’s website.

For yet more examples of projects funded by the programme, visit the LIFE project database.

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