Poaching against wolves is among the main causes of mortality of the species: a clear indication of the low level of acceptance of the predator by people prepared to violate the law and to use firearms, traps, snares and poisoned bait to get rid of wolves.
From 2010 to 2012 18 wolves were found illegally killed in the Piedmont region alone, out of a total of at least 80 wolves estimated to be present. The number of wolves victims of poaching may be significantly higher: finding a dead wolf and ascertaining its illegal killing was often very difficult. In 2012 the stable presence of the first wolves in the Veneto region was established, but by August of the same year one had already been poisoned.
The sneakiest way to eliminate wolves is to use poison, this is dangerous not only for the ecosystem in general but also for the public. The illegal use of poisoned bait is one of the most serious threats to wolf conservation it is also a dangerous practice for a large number of other animals, such as domestic dogs, small carnivores (foxes, badgers, …) and all those animals that feed on carcasses, which can in turn be poisoned by the remains of animals killed.
Unlawful killings should be kept to a minimum to ensure the long-term conservation of a viable wolf population in the Alps and limit the collateral damage caused by poison to other wild and domestic animals.
LIFE WOLFALPS is anti-poaching teams and sniffer dogs
(Actions A5, A6, C1)
LIFE WOLFALPS intends to address and solve the problem of poaching in two ways. In the first place in the field, training staff of the organisations and institutions working in the area: the rangers, forest guards, and provincial police receive specific training on combating poaching and, in particular, the use of poisoned bait. Alpine hunting syndicates will also be involved in training: a good hunter is the opposite of a poacher. Two sessions of theoretical and field work will be held in Ceva for the Western Alps and the Central Eastern Alps.
Why do I need special training? Fighting illegal killing is already the daily bread of operators working in the field: however training and managing sniffer dogs is not common. A group of at least ten guards and highly-motivated agents will be selected and trained in order to constitute at least one poison team, composed of staff with canine units, for each core area: dedicated to fighting the use of poison and poaching.
LIFE WOLFALPS also acts in synergy with the actions of LIFE ANTIDOTE, coordinated by the National Park of Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga. The skills acquired during this LIFE program will be transferred to the personnel involved in the LIFE WOLFALPS project.
Training dogs to find poisoned bait is a long and difficult process, which requires constant training with their handlers: at the end of the training, at least 5 sniffer dogs will be active in the western sector of the Alps and an equal number in central-eastern Europe.
All the skills acquired in the course of the project, as well as the establishment of poison control teams with sniffer dogs, have a lasting value for government agencies and institutions, which will benefit far beyond the time constraints of the project LIFE WOLFALPS.
Another key aspect of the fight against poaching and the use of poison is communication. To eradicate or at least minimize the phenomenon we need to raise public awareness, so that the poachers or potential poisoners are isolated and stigmatized. It should convey the message that the poisoning is not only illegal, but also anti-ecological, immoral and very dangerous to humans, children, and our 4-legged friends. Poachers should not be able to count on the tacit support of public opinion, but must be made the object of unanimous disapproval. As long as those who use poisoned bait are silently tolerated if not approved of by the rest of the population that ignores the true gravity of this practice, poaching will continue to exist and thrive. For this reason, the communication strategy of the LIFE project WOLFALPS (Action A12) unreservedly condemns poaching.