A deadly dose for birds of prey

A FEW days ago the news broke that yet another eagle had been found poisoned. This one was a golden eagle picked up on the Sligo/Leitrim border.

A lot of effort and a lot of money has gone into trying to re-introduce three large birds of prey that were brought to extinction in this country in recent times. The golden eagle project is based in Glenveagh in Co Donegal, the white-tailed eagles in Killarney National Park and the red kites in the Wicklow Mountains National Park.

An unacceptably large number of these birds have been poisoned. In fact it’s reckoned that of 61 golden eagles released in Donegal about 50% have suffered some form of persecution, though not all the attacks have had fatal results. 27 out of 100 red kites have been killed and 13 white-tailed eagles have been poisoned.

Some of these birds were shot, but most of them died as a result of eating poisoned baits left out for foxes, crows or ravens.

Since 2010 leaving out poisoned meat baits is illegal in this country. The only time poison can be legally used is in cereal-based baits intended for rats or mice, and even this is subject to some quite strict regulations and recommendations. So it’s obvious there are a number of people, in several different parts of the country, who are breaking the law. We have some reasonably accurate figures for the number of eagles and kites killed. This is because these birds wear radio-tracking devices which make it easy for researchers to find the corpse and analyse it for poison. We have no idea of the effects on other wildlife species.

Buzzards have re-introduced themselves naturally into this country and they do not wear tracking devices, though they do eat a certain amount of carrion. I know of one case in the Dublin area of a buzzard being poisoned and I’m sure there are many more that go unreported. Even the rat and mouse baits pose problems if rodents carrying doses of poison are eaten by foxes, stoats or birds of prey. This is reckoned to be a significant factor in the decline of barn owls, long-eared owls and kestrels in this country.

Domestic pets, particularly cats, can also be put at risk. And there is at least one case, from Kenya, of a child being killed. Part of the problem arises from the fact that rats have developed immunity to the earlier generation of poisons and these have been replaced by much more dangerous compounds.

Part of the solution lies in raising awareness of the indiscriminate damage being caused by these poisons in our countryside. There also needs to be a crack-down on the availability of illegal poisons in rural Ireland.


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