Poisoned white-tailed eagles in Ireland

A white-tailed eagle poisoned in Scotland, but this photo could as easily have been taken in Ireland. (photo courtesy of Strathclyde Police)

A white-tailed eagle poisoned in Scotland, but this photo could as easily have been taken in Ireland.
(photo courtesy of Strathclyde Police)

I visited Ireland in 2008 to research wildlife crime there for a chapter in my book The Thin Green Line. Reading today on Twitter that a further two white-tailed eagles have been found poisoned prompted me to re-read that chapter.

I wrote at length about the fact that in 2008 setting out poisoned baits was still legal in Ireland, and about some of the birds of prey that had been poisoned as a result, particularly in 2007. The chapter ends:

Further bad news completes the 2007 saga. The red kite, ‘Purple N’ saved from death by poisoning was killed on 8 November. It had been feeding on a carcass on a railway line in County Wicklow when it was hit by a train.  Kites, unlike cats, obviously have less than nine lives. 

Regrettably (though perfectly logically) birds of prey and poisoned baits don’t mix.  Ever since I heard that young golden eagles were being taken from Scotland to a country that still allows the use of poisoned baits this has been my fear. People in Wales who have donated red kites and likewise Norwegians who have given white-tailed eagles must have had the same fear. It was unfortunately no surprise to me that two white-tailed eagles were reported to have been poisoned in February 2008 in sheep farming country in the foothills of MacGillycuddy’s Reeks in County Kerry. Worse, a third bird found in December of 2007 and initially thought to have died of natural causes, was also confirmed as having been poisoned.

One of the birds had been killed by alpha-chloralose, while the other two had taken a bait laced with Trodax, a liver fluke and worm infestation medicine for sheep and cattle.  The scientist in charge of the reintroduction project had received a tip-off that farmers were dosing carcasses with Trodax in order to kill off foxes in advance of the lambing season.   

However we can relax and our fears can be put to rest. Farmers in Ireland have now officially been asked to be more careful when laying poisoned baits for foxes or vermin!

I wonder what the Norwegians think? 

So is there less regard for wildlife law in Ireland compared with the UK?  The population of Ireland is certainly more rural-based than in most of the UK apart from the northern half of Scotland and this may influence thinking on hunting and killing wildlife. The difference in Ireland is that there are very strong lobbying groups of whom the politicians and their civil servants are wary, if not afraid. 

The farming lobby is very strong in Ireland and any mention of prohibiting the laying of poison would be vehemently opposed by them. The farmers would most likely also be supported by the National Association of Regional Game Councils in this matter. As a conservation ranger told me, “Their reasoning may not make much sense or be backed up by science but they’ll shout and roar and will usually win the day”. 

In a country with such lovely, friendly people, such a wealth of wildlife and such a dependence on tourism it seems that some heads need to be banged together.

So here we are four years later, with the use of poisoned baits eventually having been banned, despite the protestations of farmers, and still white-tailed eagles and other birds of prey are falling victim to poisoned baits. For those who have been involved in their re-introduction, and for the majority of Irish people who love to see these majestic birds in their skies this must be devastating. These investigations require specialist investigators, yet when I was in Ireland there was only one part-time wildlife crime officer in the whole of the Garda.  I’ve no reason to think that this situation has improved.

Ireland is at least 20 years behind the UK in the investigation of wildlife crime. In an effort to tackle the level of wildlife crime a friend of mine in Ireland, Emma Higgs, a diminutive wee lass with incredible enthusiasm and energy, is organising a conference/training weekend in September to increase the awareness of all types of wildlife crime, and to improve enforcement. It is clear that the Garda and the National Parks and Wildlife Service need to work together much more efficiently, with the Garda putting as much energy into the partnership as does the NPWS, with designated officers undertaking specialist training. I and others from the UK have been asked to speak at the event. I am looking forward to it and I hope it may be the catalyst for better enforcement and a reduction in poisoned raptors.


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