WWF Greece’s Anti-poison team in action
First Anti-poison Dog Unit in Bulgaria started patrolling in Rhodope Mountains in 2016. The main objective of the Unit is to create poison-free areas by controlling and removing poisoned baits before they can cause damage. However, pioneers on the Balkans are two Greek Canine Teams especially trained for the detection of poison baits. Since 2014 WWF Greece and Hellenic Ornithological Society are working in Thrace and Central Greece. Patrols cover mainly the territories of last Egyptian vultures in Greece, but not only. Here is an insight into the work of the WWF Greece’s Anti-poison team.
Few weeks ago WWF Greece’s Anti-poison team, Ela and Kiko, received an urgent call from the Hunting Club of Alexandroupolis about a poisoning incident close to Mesimvria village. A hunter was claiming that his dog fell dead in the forest, so they called WWF Greece for help, as he was suspecting that it was caused by a poisoned bait. It was time for Ela and Kiko to take action and prove how important work they have been providing all these years not only to wildlife but to domestic animals, as well.
Following that call, WWF Anti-poison team, together with two guards of the Alexandroupolis Hunting Club, arrived at the indicated point and started looking for clues that would help them solve the mystery. The owner of the hunting dog was claiming that the dog had a contact with a goat carcass and after a while died with obvious poisoning symptoms, but the carcass was not somewhere nearby. The whole area seemed intact and there was nothing “suspicious” there, at least not visible to the human eye… That was the perfect moment for Kiko to show one more time his unique skills, high professionalism and infallible nose!
Even before he was commanded to start searching, he had already detected the poison bait where exactly it was hidden. Indeed, it was the fastest searching ever in Kiko’s career! He detected the goat carcass, which had a fatal green chemical liquid on it, hidden and tided to a bush 300 meters away from the initial investigation place, as well as the dead hunting dog. The green color of the used substance found on the goat, may indicate a type of pesticide. According to the standard procedures, a public vet was called to come and take samples for the necessary toxicological analysis, while after sampling, the findings were removed and safely disposed to prevent other wildlife species or even other domestic animals from getting poisoned. The longer the poisoned baits would remain in the area, the more dangerous that would be for nature and also for other animals that would fall within these “fatal traps”.
Poisoned baits pose one of the main threats to the survival of rare vultures living in the wider area of Evros and Rhodopes, like black vultures, Egyptian vultures and griffon vultures, which are scavenging birds, feeding mostly on the carcasses of dead animals. Within this context, this kind of baits, a whole carcass, can be very easily found and consumed by vultures, which forage in the area.
This time was a matter of pure lack that we had no dead vultures as victims of this incident. Nevertheless, the successful handling of the incident was not at all a matter of lack. It was based on one very important factor: the fast reflexes of the Hunting Club which contacted immediately WWF Anti-poison team and enabled Ela and Kiko to quickly remove the poisoned bait and animals, preventing thus others to get poisoned.
In order for WWF Anti-poison team to be able to efficiently tackle the poisoned baits and protect both our nature and the incredibly unique species living in Greece, there is an immense need for early notification by all the people who detect a poisoned bait or a dead animal in the nature. To further strengthen people’s awareness on this matter, the team works on developing a network of citizens, public authorities and professionals (livestock breeders, hunters) who could join their forces with WWF Greece, in order to combat illegal poisoning.