The poisoning, the poaching and the illegal trade are among the main threats to North Macedonia’s wildlife. The Egyptian vulture and the Balkan lynx are on the verge of extinction and the bear, the wolf, the fox and the jackal are also under great threat. Still, despite all aforementioned crimes are one of the main reasons for decimation of the populations of the most endangered animal species in the country, there is still no documented case of a court trial or given fine for killing a wild animal.
The Egyptian vulture is a globally endangered species and is facing extinction throughout the whole planet. In North Macedonia there are only 12 nesting couples. The Griffon vulture is represented by only 7 couples, and the Black vulture and the Bearded vulture had been exterminated long ago. The numbers for the Balkan lynx are not much higher and currently, its population is estimated at around 30 adult individuals. The sizes of the populations have been declining throughout the years and several factors are to be blamed for that.
“The biggest threat to the Egyptian vulture is the poisoning, not just with poisons scattered by reckless people, but also by veterinary products for the treatment of domestic animals or the lead from the bullets in the carcasses of the shot animals. Another threat are the uninsulated overhead power lines, the decreased access to food, or loss of habitats. The illegal bird trade and the stealing of eggs from the nests also poses a great danger,” says Nenad Petrovski from the Macedonian Ecological Society (MES), an organization that has been working on projects for protection of the most vulnerable wild animals.
At the networking event for the state institutions and the civil organizations for the fight against the environmental crime, organized by MES, Petrovski stressed that 44 cases of poisoning of birds of prey were registered in North Macedonia, and in almost all of the cases not just one, but multiple birds were killed. In the last case, which happened in November last year, a mass poisoning of 18 vultures and environmental catastrophe of killing birds that are nesting throughout the Balkans region was luckily avoided. This case has no legal outcome, the perpetrator who scattered the poison was neither found nor punished.
“There are plenty of flaws in the procedures for the crimes against wild animals. In our country there is no standard procedure for handling these cases, and the environmentalists are those who most often discover and document the cases and are contacting and alarming the institutions. On the other hand, the institutions have no experience in the procedures with environmental crime, the wild animals most often aren’t even looked upon as victims, there is no protocol for going in the field for gathering evidence. Most often, we the activists are transporting the poisoned animals to the lab by ourselves, which isn’t a proper procedure if we want a certain case to have a legal outcome. The Public prosecution almost never issues the order to start a procedure, the criminal charges are filed only against an unknown perpetrator, so no one has been fined so far. This institution didn’t reply to any of our invitations for cooperation at today’s event,” said Petrovski.
Poaching is the biggest threat for the Balkan lynx. In the last several years, 14 lynx were killed by men, 2 in a road accident and only 1 has died of sickness. The program for the recovery of the Balkan lynx led by the Macedonian Environmental Association was started in 2006, but despite all the efforts, its numbers are declining.
“At least one to two lynxes per year fall victims to poachers, which is a lot since there are only around 30 left,” said Dime Melovski of MES. He stressed that even though they are under high rank of protection, one can see stuffed lynx or lynx hides in renowned restaurants and hotels throughout the country.
Apart from the poaching, one of the biggest threats to the lynx’s survival is the extended hunting of the roe deer, the rabbit, and the mountain goat which are its main food, but also the wild dogs that are eating its prey.
The problems with the environmental crime against wild animals are present throughout the whole Balkans and Europe. Dimitar Gradinarov from the Bulgarian Association for Protection of the Birds, shared experiences from this country. There are two documented cases of discovering the perpetrators and legal outcomes. The perpetrators were Bulgarian and foreign nationals who had a network for stealing eggs from nests and were organizing a trade of protected birds throughout the Balkans, but also were trading in the EU. He stressed that even in this country, this type of crime isn’t a priority for the institutions, and the investigators and the judicial system aren’t experienced enough in their procedures.
“The illegal trade with wild animals is worth billions,” said Guy Sharrock from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in England and he also says that this is a global problem that many countries are trying to solve.
“Each year we are organizing a conference on the subject of criminal offenses on the living world and we have a national unit for the crime on the wild world that has 18 trained employees that are working together with the customs services and the police. A special team for uncovering the illegal trade with wild animals is operating at the Heathrow Airport. Great Britain has specialized attorneys who are specialized in this type of crime, and we are part of the European network of prosecutors of environmental crime,” stresses Sharrock.