The illegal use of poisoned baits is a serious threat to birds

Falco, a trained sniffer-dog with a poisoned eagle carcass ©Gabor Deak/MME-BirdLife Hungary

The illegal use of poisoned baits is a serious threat to biodiversity and a hazard to public health both in Europe and worldwide. The laying of any poisoned bait in the open is against the law in all EU Member States. The Birds Directive provides the conditions for the sustainable management of hunting, but Member States must outlaw all forms of non-selective and large scale killing of birds. This applies especially to the methods listed in Annex IV - where poisoned or anaesthetic baits are mentioned among the prohibited tools. The use of these baits are illegal independent of whether it's intented to deliberately kill a bird of prey or other, hunted species. In the EU, this illegal practice represents one of the biggest conservation problems for some endangered species, often becoming the main cause of non-natural death.

Intentional poisoning is a deliberate act when poisons are used in order to kill wildlife. The poison is often targeting at particular species, mainly those that cause economic harm to the poisoners. The consequences however are frequently unintentional and affect other species predating or scavenging on the poisoned animal. This is called as indirect (secondary) poisoning in contrary to direct (primary) poisoning.

Accidental poisoning happens when the poison is not directed against the affected species. Most often these are some kind of pesticides, used without the necessary circumspection and released into the environment in the wrong location or quantities. This misuse of chemicals include also the mixing of different legal substances, which enhances the effect of each other. For instance, lead ammunition, used to kill game species can resuult in the unintentional poisoning of scavengers. One of the most serious poisons in the killing of birds – especially birds of prey – is carbofuran. It is a powerful agricultural pesticide that was banned in the EU in the early 21st century, but still imported illegally to many of the member states.


Use of detection dogs for conservation

Specifically trained sniffer dogs can locate poisoned carcasses and baits in the field. The first specialized anti-poison dog units in Europe were established in the early 2000’s by the Consejería de Medio Ambiente of the Junta de Andalusia in Spain. Since then, the practice has been followed in many countries, and these canines have become an essential tool in the prevention and detection of illegal use of poisoned baits across Europe.

Related Case Studies in other sections


Related Information

Up to 100 vulture deaths prevented by rapid response

BirdLife partners join forces to prevent illegal poisoning of wildlife

Anti-poisoning work of the Vulture Conservation Foundation

The silent killer of Egyptian vulture

A mighty predator turned helpless at the hands of humans

Scientific publications

Animal mortality and illegal poison bait use in Greece (Ntemiri et al. 2018)

Another continental vulture crisis: Africa’s vultures collapsing toward extinction (Ogada 2016)

Ivory poachers and poison: drivers of Africa's declining vulture populations (Ogada 2015)

The power of poison: pesticide poisoning of Africa’s wildlife (Ogada 2014)

Primary and secondary poisoning by anticoagulant rodenticides of non-target animals in Spain. (Sánchez-Barbudo et al. 2012)

A review of lead poisoning from ammunition sources in terrestrial birds. (Fisher et al. 2006)

Lead concentrations in bones and feathers of the globally threatened Spanish imperial eagle (Pain et al. 2005)

Diclofenac poisoning as a cause of vulture population declines across the Indian subcontinent (Green et al. 2004)

Technical reports

Multi-species action plan to conserve African-Eurasian vultures (CMS 2017)

Flyway action plan for Egyptian vultures in the Balkan and central Asia (BSPB 2016)

Guidelines to prevent the risk of poisoning to migratory birds (CMS 2014)

Review of measures to combat illegal poisoning (2013)

Guidelines for preparing and national or regional raptor conservation and management strategies (Kovacs and Williams 2012)

Lead poisoning in waterbirds (AEWA 2002)

Lead poisoning in waterbirds: International Update Report 2000 (Beintema 2001).

Compiled: 2020    Copyright: 2020   

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BirdLife International (2020) The illegal use of poisoned baits is a serious threat to birds. Downloaded from on 28/09/2022