Who and why

The illegal use of poison is widespread in many European areas, and is usually practiced by:
breeders, to protect livestock from predators such as foxes, stray dogs, wolves, bears and lynxes;
hunters, to protect game like partridges, pheasants, hares and ungulates from predation by foxes, wolves, birds of prey, etc.
truffle hunters, to eliminate their rivals’ dogs
hunters and truffle hunters competing for the use of territory
breeders and/or common citizens to kill stray cats and dogs
farmers, to protect cultivations from bears

The use of poison baits is thus triggered both by reasons connected with the difficulties of certain (often underprivileged) producers, and by personal gain in the framework of hobby and hunting.
Poison baits are also used in and around towns to eliminate stray cats and dogs, or out of intolerance of the neighbours’ house animals, thus representing a serious danger for public health, too.


The practice consists in scattering poison baits, normally morsels or meat pieces, stuffed or sprinkled with toxic substances. Pesticides, rodenticides and molluscicides are the most commonly used substances.
Some of them are easily obtainable, as they are used in agriculture; others have been forbidden a long time ago.
These substances, which are generally ingested in high doses, cause acute poisoning, inducing neurological, haemorrhagic or gastroenteric symptoms, followed by the animal’s death. Unfortunately, most poisons don’t have a specific antidote.


Poisoning is not only illegal but also unselective, and may directly or indirectly cause the death of many animals, both domestic and wild.
The main targets of poison baits are wolves and foxes, because of their difficult coexistence with breeders and hunters.
Carrion birds (red kites, griffon vultures, Egyptian vultures, bearded vultures, golden eagles etc.) are generally collateral victims: they are not the direct targets, but they may spot and eat poison baits, or poisoned animals.
A single poisoned carcass may thus cause a massacre, killing numerous animals of different species.
In Europe, the illegal use of poison, together with shooting, made bears and wolves disappear from many areas, and caused the extinction, drastic decrease or shrinking range of several species of birds of prey, such as Egyptian, griffon and cinereous vulture.

How to combat the use of poison

Combating the use of poison requires a manifold action. First of all, it is essential to precisely know this phenomenon; limit triggering factors; sensitise the population; and have suitable tools available to mitigate the consequences of poison use and to detect and prosecute this type of offence.
A crucial aspect is the control of conflicts between farmers/breeders and predators.This can be achieved by establishing continuing and constructive talks between park authorities and professional categories, to agree upon measures that support agriculture and breeding as well as  the preservation of protected species.
In this respect, some extremely effective measures are the prompt and appropriate reimbursement of damages, and the promotion of adequate management practices for the protection of livestock (use of guard dogs, fixed and movable fences, night shelters, etc.).
It is equally important to control stray animals.
An effective strategy should also include actions to sensitise the population, encourage citizens to report poisoning cases, establish anti-poison dog units, train veterinary and police personnel, foster    fruitful collaboration among relevant subjects (veterinary local health authorities, preventive animal healthcare institutes, police authorities, veterinarians, etc.).
Anti-poison Dog Units are an essential instrument to grasp the real extent of the phenomenon, to prevent the use of poison and contain its consequences, and to support police staff in analysing the discovery locations of poison baits and carcasses and in carrying out investigations and searches.
A more detailed analysis of this phenomenon, and of the legislative and management proposals to tackle it, can be found in the publication Strategia contro l’uso del veleno in Italia (Strategy against the use of poison in Italy), produced in the framework of the LIFE ANTIDOTO Project (http://tinyurl.com/bqhgpjl).

  • Immagine 1
  • A morsel of pasta sprinkled with granules of Aldicarb, a forbidden insecticide
  • Immagine 2
  • A poisoned badger on the necropsy table
  • Immagine 3
  • Poisoned wolf
  • Immagine 4
  • Poisoned griffon vulture in Abruzzo
  • Immagine 5
  • Poisoned fox found by an anti-poison dog
  • Immagine 6
  • Marsican brown bear Bernando, poisoned in the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park in 2007
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