Anti-poison dog units in action

29.12.2014
Kiko and Kuki in action (T. Bounas, HOS)

This year for the first time in Greece two anti-poison dog units have started implementing patrols in order to locate poison baits or animals. This very important conservation action has been conducted in Thrace and Central Greece (six prefectures) where the last Greek Egyptian vultures are still present and in the framework of Life project "The Return of the Neophron" (LIFE10NAT/BG/000152). The searched areas were places where either in the recent past a poison incident had taken place or in areas where a new poison event had been notified (information from forestry services, management bodies, citizens). After 10 months of working, around 90 patrols were carried out and more than 200 kilometers has been covered by the dog handlers (it is worth mentioning that the dogs do in average four times more kilometers than the dog handlers). A total of 27 carcasses were found and were identified as poisoned. The most common species found dead were dogs - either shepherd or hunting dogs-, with a total of 23 fatalities, followed by foxes with 4 fatalities. In some cases, poison baits were also detected, in most cases these consisting of a piece of meat with poison. In Antichasia area, more than 10 kilograms of poison baits were collected. The main reasons to use the poison baits were wolf or fox extermination, control of stray dogs and personal conflicts among shepherds or hunters. The findings were sampled by local authorized veterinarians and sent to the toxicological laboratory of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens for analysis. From the first results, two substances, endosulfan and methomyl, were identified. Endosulfan is an off-patent organochlorine insecticide and acaricide that is being phased out globally. Methomyl is a highly toxic carbamate insecticide which is forbidden in EU.
The use of poison baits is the main threat to many different species (wild and domestic) many of them listed as protected (all vulture species, golden eagle, brown bear and wolf). Among them, Egyptian vulture is the most vulnerable as it forages in semi-forested and in agricultural land where the use of poisoned baits is more frequent. But its population is so limited that each poisoned individual drops the number of remained Egyptian vultures to extremely low for survival population. The use of poison was the cause of massive griffon vulture fatalities in Nestos Gorge in 2012. The story of Lazaros, one Egyptian vulture that was poisoned twice shows how serious is the problem. Every poisoned bait or animal found by the dog units decrease the risk of further fatalities.
But not everything is work! The dogs, Kiko and Kuki, fully "participate" in the handlers' day to day life. After work the handlers have to do activities (mountain hiking, canicross and many others) with their dogs that keep both of them in good shape. Let's hope that 2015 brings less work to our teams!
We thank all the authorities and citizens who called us and showed us the places where poisoned events took place. With their initiative, they might save some other domestic or wild animals from poisoning as the anti-poison units helped in "cleaning" those places from dangerous baits.

Anti-poison dog supports vultures (Daniela Silva,WWF/EVS)
Kiko at work (WWF)
Kuki at work (HOS)
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