New chapter starts in the fight against poisoning of eagles

Although, fight against illegal bird poisoning may seem to be tilting at windmills, fortunately close cooperation of stakeholders has greatly improved the situation in recent years. MME/Birdlife Hungary had coordinated the EU and government funded Helicon Life programme between 2012 and 2016, which aimed to reduce poisoning of the Imperial Eagle.

During the project, nine partner organizations (directorates of the Hortobágyi National Park, Bükki National Park and Körös-Maros National Park, National Bureau of Investigation, Hungarian National Hunting Chamber, Budapest Zoo, Jászberény Zoo and Termé carried out 33 actions hand in hand with numerous experts and about 400 volunteers.

One of the main tasks of the programme was to prepare uniform field, veterinarian and police investigation protocols for the groups of professionals participating in it. In order to discover poisoning cases continuous field surveys took place nationwide, and we also introduced three different methods to help police work:

  • We established a detection dog unit, which carried out more than 500 field surveys and house searches and found carcasses, baits and traces concerning about 200 protected animals.
  • We had followed the routes of more than 40 Imperial Eagles with satellite transmitters
  • We have built a DNA database from DNA extracted from shed feathers covering the whole Carpathian Basin, thus we could pinpoint easier those areas where turnover rate of eagles were higher than normal, most of the time caused by anthropogenic factors among them poisoning.

These methods and protocols resulted in that Hungary has become one of the most investigated countries in the world, and some of our methods were integrated into EU and international directives.

Further results of the programme:

  • After numerous unsolved and closed cases in the past decade, involving nearly 200 unknown perpetrators, in 2015, we could already reveal the identity of four perpetrators in three different cases, and, three further suspects were being prosecuted in 2016 for committing bird poisoning.
  • We promoted alternative, legal methods to reduce number of birds of prey instead of poisoning.
  • We established 5.4 hectares of grassy, bushy and forested habitats
  • We built the Eagle Centre, which, in addition to public awareness raising, also plays an important role in hosting injured birds (up to now, more than 200 birds were treated here)
  • Number of poisoned Imperial Eagles has reduced (2012: 16 ind, 2016: 0 ind)
  • In 2015, the Imperial Eagle population increased again and reached 190 pairs in 2016.

Despite recent reduction in the number of poisoning of raptors, it still poses a serious threat both within the country and in neighbouring countries. The new, also EU funded, Pannon Eagle Life project offers good opportunity to continue the work between 2017 and 2021. Important actions targeting the protection of Imperial Eagles and the reduction of poisoning will commence in Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria and Serbia besides Hungary.

Following the footsteps of the highly effective detection dog unit we used in the field, other special units will be established and start working in the Kiskunság National Park Directorate, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. In each countries, Field, veterinarian and police protocols will be developed in collaboration with the professional groups concerned. In several areas, “eagle-friendly” habitat development will help prey species find suitable biotope.

Along with all this, raising awareness for nature conservation will also continue. Further information in relation to the project is available in the and the facebook page of the PannonEagle LIFE programme.

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