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Wildlife continues to suffer as illegal poisoning shows no signs of dying out

The recent deaths of two White-tailed Eagles in the south-west have once again raised serious concerns over the continuing incidents of illegal poisoning in this country.  Despite changes to the legislation in 2010, which effectively banned the use of poison meat baits, this archaic practice is still being carried out by a small minority in the Irish countryside, with devastating effects for our wildlife.

In January of this year the carcass of a female White-tailed Eagle was discovered by a member of the public near Glengariff in West Cork.  Subsequent toxicology analysis confirmed that the bird had died from poisoning.  A second White-tailed Eagle was also found dead near Caherdaniel in County Kerry in the same month, and although poisoning is suspected it has not been possible to confirm the cause of death.

The carcasses of the two dead White-tailed Eagles: note the radio trasmitters on each bird (Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan)
The carcasses of the two dead White-tailed Eagles:
note the radio trasmitters on each bird
(Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan)

White-tailed Eagles were once relatively widespread in Ireland, but became extinct in this country during the 19th century, largely as a result of human persecution.  Since 2007, a total of 100 eagles have been released in Killarney through a re-introduction project managed by the Golden Eagle Trust.  Although 2012 marked their first breeding attempt in Ireland in over 100 years, the issues which originally led to these magnificent birds being wiped out from this country over a century ago have unfortunately not disappeared.  Twenty six eagles have been found dead since their re-introduction began in 2007, and it has been confirmed that at least twelve of these were poisoned.

Commenting on the death of the White-tailed Eagle in West Cork, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan, said, “The poisoning of an eagle in County Cork is very serious.  Eagles are protected by law, they are majestic birds of prey, and their reintroduction to Ireland is an important and very worthwhile project.  My Department is providing any assistance it can to the Gardaí in the investigation of this matter.

The foot of one of the dead White-tailed Eagles: note the tightly-clenched talons, which are often indicative of poisoning (Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan)
The foot of one of the dead White-tailed Eagles:
note the tightly-clenched talons, which are often indicative of poisoning
(Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan)

Although illegal, the laying of poison meat baits in Ireland is predominantly used to control vermin such as foxes and crows.  The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine banned all poisoning of animals and birds, apart from rodents and Rabbits, in 2008, under Statutory Instrument 511.  Previously, the Pesticide Control Service of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine had “registered and approved” a small number of pesticides for the control of foxes, crows and Woodpigeons.  The Department of Agriculture has stated that the use of poison to control foxes and crows is a breach of the Cross Compliance Measures of the Single Farm Payment, especially Special Management Regulation 1 & 9, related to the EU’s Birds Directive and the use of pesticides, respectively.  This was initiated and approved by European farm leaders and is in line with European Agricultural guidelines.

Purposefully leaving such toxic substances exposed in the environment in this manner has the potential to not only kill the target species but also a wide range of other wildlife.  The indiscriminate effects of these dangerous toxins were highlighted in early February in Galway City, where a number of cats were poisoned in an urban area after coming into contact with a banned substance known as alphachloralose.  A number of poisoned dogs have also been reported from Kenmare in County Kerry in recent weeks.

A magnificent adult White-tailed Eagle as it deserves to be seen (Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan)
A magnificent adult White-tailed Eagle as it deserves to be seen
(Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan)

Due to their feeding habits, several birds of prey in Ireland are particularly susceptible to illegal poisoning.  Numerous incidents involving birds of prey have been documented by BirdWatch Ireland as well as the Golden Eagle Trust in recent years, which have all too graphically portrayed the incredibly cruel consequences of illegal poisoning: see, for example, the article on the particularly cruel poisoning of a pair of Buzzard chicks and a Sparrowhawk near Roscrea that was featured in the August 2011 issue of eWings.

Buzzards are also very suscepible to illegal poisoning, though incidents involving this species are likely to go undiscovered or unreported (Photo: Brian Carruthers)
Buzzards are also very suscepible to illegal poisoning,
though incidents involving this species are likely to go undiscovered or unreported
(Photo: Brian Carruthers)

Commenting on the scale of the problem, John Lusby, Raptor Conservation Officer with BirdWatch Ireland said, “Banning the use of poison meat baits was a positive first step in dealing with this problem, but it is very clear that changing the legislation alone will not be sufficient in stamping out this horrendous practice and that further action is required if we are serious about ridding the countryside of illegal poisoning.  Unfortunately, the poisoning incidents we are aware of are likely to represent only a fraction of those which actually occur throughout the country, as the majority of poisonings of birds of prey are never found or reported.

A poison surveillance scheme and post mortem protocol for raptors was initiated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in 2011 to assess the extent of poisoning of birds of prey in Ireland and to increase enforcement of the existing poisoning laws.  John Lusby commented, “The initial action taken by the Government departments through this scheme were very positive, but significant improvements are urgently required if this scheme is to live up to its potential in tackling illegal poisoning.

Photo taken during the post mortem examination of one of the dead White-tailed Eagles (Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan)
Photo taken during the post mortem examination of one of the dead White-tailed Eagles
(Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan)

BirdWatch Ireland and the Golden Eagle Trust are calling for a full review of the scheme and a more defined and efficient strategy for training, raising awareness and increasing enforcement if the scheme is going to have a meaningful impact.  Both organisations also request the publication of the initial report on poisoning incidents and other recorded cases of raptor persecution from 2011 by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, so that the extent of the problems and the best means of addressing the outstanding issues relating to recording and reporting procedures can be effectively dealt with.

If you encounter a potential poisoning incident, please do not interfere with the scene, and please record the specific location and all other relevant information and contact the National Parks and Wildlife Service or BirdWatch Ireland as soon as possible.

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