Just after we officially launched the first Anti-Poison Dog Unit last week, Bulgaria witnessed a serious new case of poisoning in the Eastern Rhodopes close to the Greek border. In just a few days time, seven wolves, five shepherd dogs, one wild boar, two foxes, one hedgehog and one stone marten were found near a poisoned bait. A griffon vulture was also considered as a casualty of poisoning.
The responsible authorities from the regional environmental agency, the Anti-Poison Dog Units in both Bulgaria and Greece, the veterinary service, experts from the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds and the Green Balkans NGO responded quickly to the signal sent from concerned hunters from the region of Strazhets, Krumovgrad.
The hunters spotted a griffon vulture with untypical behavior, however its body was not found. The Anti-Poison Dog Unit, which recently started patrolling the Rhodope Mountains rewilding area, arrived immediately at the site. Nikolay Terziev together with Bars, his specially trained dog, searched the surrounding area and the nearby village for more poisoned animals.
These were the first real life cases for the new Anti-Poison Dog Unit, which started its activates just a few days earlier within the LIFE project “Conservation of Black and Griffon vultures in the Rhodope Mountains” (LIFE Vultures). Rewilding Europe runs this project in partnership with Rewilding Rhodopes Foundation, Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB), WWF Greece, Vulture Conservation Foundation and Hellenic Ornithological Society/BirdLife Greece.
This is the second case of poisoning this month. Earlier in October, another hunting unit discovered carcasses of poisoned domestic animals that caused serious damages to the wild and domestic animals in the area. These two incidents pose a serious threat not only to animal but also human health, BSPB experts warn. In order to collect all dead animals and to search a larger area, the Anti-Poison Dog Unit managed by WWF Greece in the neighboring Dadia, was asked to come and help. The joint effort of Bulgarian and Greek teams resulted in finding the dead animals on Tuesday, including the seven wolves (of which 5 were old pups and 2 adults). The teams removed and disposed the carcasses quickly to prevent possible additional cases of poisoning.
Due to heavy rains over the past two weeks the situation got even more serious, as there is a real danger: poison could sink into the groundwater from where it can easily find its way to the food of people and domestic animals trough edible plants and mushrooms. A serious threat is also in the consumption of poisoned game meat that can lead to severe human health consequences and even death.
With three different breeding vulture species, the Rhodope Mountains are among the key areas for the recovery of European vultures. The Rhodope Mountains rewilding area is the only breeding area of the indigenous griffon vulture population in Bulgaria, while the area holds the largest population of the globally threatened Egyptian vulture on the Balkans. Therefore, the recent poisoning incidents create a serious threat to these populations.
The Rewilding Rhodopes team and the hunters alarmed the local police and authorities who are already investigating the case. Until now, the local police interrogated three suspects and the regional prosecutor’s office is also dealing with the case. There was significant media attention in Bulgaria stressing the risk for human health.