This is probably the first time in history that multiple countries are collaborating to fight wildlife crime. The tagline of the Wildlife Crime Academy captures it neatly: “Fighting wildlife crime. Together.”
Over the last couple of years, competent authorities from seven Balkan countries, Spain and Cyprus participated in a series of ambitious and intensive official anti-poison training courses within the Wildlife Crime Academy based in Spain, building capacities to effectively investigate, manage and tackle illegal wildlife poisoning incidents across the participating countries. As a result, forty-four participants from nine countries across Europe, including Cyprus, are now certified as Experts in Wildlife Crime Investigation and Analysis.
These training courses have significantly contributed to raising operational capacities of staff from the relevant governmental institutions and other stakeholders. They have also bolstered institutional cooperation and working cohesion, rendering the authorities’ response to future poisoning incidents more effective. Expert staff from Spain, primarily from the Junta de Andalucía, delivered courses that focus on investigation, forensic pathology and toxicology, which are the most important components when it comes to managing illegal wildlife poisoning incidents.
The Vulture Conservation Foundation and the Junta de Andalucía have meticulously designed and delivered the course as part of the EU-funded “BalkanDetox LIFE” and “LIFE with Vultures” projects. The course combined Crime Scene Investigation (CSI), forensic science and judicial processes, bringing together officials working in these areas in order to adjust and apply knowledge and skills to their countries.
From Cyprus, officials from the Game and Fauna Service, the Cyprus Police, the State General Laboratory and BirdLife Cyprus, had the privilege of completing this high standard training. Those trained will transfer the knowledge gained to others within their departments in Cyprus through a number of trainings that were organised locally throughout 2022 and will continue in 2023. Furthermore, the Operational Protocol on the response and management of poisoning incidents that is currently being prepared by the involved stakeholders is in line with these trainings, thus establishing a standard procedure and promoting collaboration for the effective investigation of this wildlife crime.
In Andalusia, over the span of 15 years, the regional government has achieved an 80% reduction in illegal wildlife poisoning incidents, by combining Crime Scene Investigation (CSI), forensic science and judicial processes. With the right procedures, perseverance and collaboration, Cyprus can also achieve comparable results. Already, through the collaboration among the Game and Fauna Service, the Cyprus Police, the Veterinary Services, the State General Laboratory and the Department of Agriculture, Cyprus has achieved the first-ever out-of-court fine for illegal wildlife poisoning.
It is expected that the groundbreaking training received from the Wildlife Crime Academy in combination with the Operational Protocol will have a significant impact on prosecuting and convicting wildlife criminals, serving as a deterrent to potential offenders and ultimately minimising wildlife crimes, thereby saving the lives of endangered species, such as the Griffon Vulture and other raptors.