The battle against poaching continues: 410 interventions since 2022 by LWA EU Anti-Poison Dog Units
The Anti-poison Dog Units set up under the LIFE WolfAlps EU project, together with those formed under the previous LIFE WolfAlps, are now well-established in the project area with 410 interventions carried out in the field from 2022 to date. Since they became fully operational, their intervention has been requested both for preventive purposes and following reports received in a variety of contexts, from urban to mountainous.
The release of poisoned baits is in fact widespread practice, and does not only concern malicious individuals who wish to ‘liberate’ hunting areas from predators (wolves in primis), or pastures to avoid predation on domestic livestock, but also truffle hunters for internal rivalries or even in city parks. In fact, the victims of such practices are not only wild predators in nature (wolves, foxes, for example, but also eagles) but also domestic dogs such as truffle hunters or shepherds’ dogs, or even unsuspecting dogs simply out for a walk, which almost always die in atrocious suffering.
It is important to remember that the release of poisoned baits in the territory constitutes a serious violation of a criminal nature on a par with other forms of poaching, and in Italy may constitute a crime under Article 544 bis of the Criminal Code if it results in the death of the animal, with the prescribed penalty of imprisonment from four months to two years.
Figure 2 shows the distribution of interventions carried out between January 2022 and February 2023 in Italy, illustrating the wide range of action achieved by the project UCAs. In these months the UCAs intervened 264 times for preventive purposes, finding suspicious carcasses or baits in 12 cases, and 146 times following a report, finding suspicious carcasses or baits in 21 cases. There were 22 interventions in which the actual presence of poisoned baits was confirmed, but this may increase in the coming months as investigations in this area take time and the results are released after the necessary procedures have been completed.
In Austria, the APDU trained at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, after receiving certification by the Austrian organisation ‘Naturschutzhunde’ (we talked about it HERE) to search for animal carcasses that are often used by poachers, carried out its first preventive inspection in March 2023.
The activities of the project’s Anti-poison Dog Units are inevitably intertwined with those operating in the rest of the Italian peninsula and abroad: the exchange of information and the sharing of protocols on a national and international level are fundamental aspects in order to effectively monitor and prosecute the poaching phenomenon. Thanks to the untiring work of the Carabinieri Forestali, project partners, important collaborations and agreements are being made with other competent subjects in the field with the aim of defining an operational strategy to coordinate the environmental police forces at an international level in the fight against poaching and poisoning of wolves. Through the work of the Carabinieri, the LIFE WolfAps EU project has established a collaboration with the LIFE+ SATEC which aims to promote the definition of international legal frameworks, as well as new investigation methods, training of officers and cooperation between police and legislative bodies to combat environmental crimes, within the broader context of the European Centre of Excellence on criminal matters related to this illegal activity, the EnviCrimeNet network.
A networking activity with the Finnish project also started at the beginning of 2023 LIFE BOREALWOLF for a comparison of monitoring protocols for wildlife crime surveillance used in different countries.
Interaction between projects is therefore fundamental if surveillance is to be implemented at a systemic level and across national borders, and the work of the APDUs is proof of the effectiveness of this approach if we consider that they were born in 2010 with LIFE ANTIDOTO and have grown throughout the country through subsequent LIFEs (PLUTO, MedWolf, WolfAlps, MIRCO-Lupo and WolfAlps EU), also trained by staff from park authorities, provinces and regions.