Acoustic sensors record thousands of illegal shootings but Greek authorities claim they hear nothing
In spring of 2021, dozens of thousands of turtle doves and other migratory birds were illegally killed by poachers across the Ionian. These shocking findings, recently presented in a scientific article, derived from information obtained with the use of passive acoustic monitoring methods (PAM). Installed by HOS/BirdLife Greece within the framework of the LIFE Against Brid Crime project, 9 out 10 acoustic sensors of the grid systematically recorded the gun hunting pressure in this notorious poaching hot-spot. Traditionally, poachers’ main target in that area is the globally threatened Turtle dove, whose populations have declined by as much as 79% in just a few decades, making the species vulnerable to extinction.
As in the majority of European countries, no derogations or local exceptions are in force in Greece when it comes to spring hunting which is forbidden by law throughout the country since 1985. Most western parts of the country, including the islands of the Ionian Sea, are essential stopover sites, crucial for the survival of many migratory bird species that every spring travel from the sub-Saharan Africa to their breeding sites in Europe. Despite the ban, neither the Greek Ministry of Environment nor local or competent authorities in the Ionian Islands have managed to eradicate or at least reduce “spring hunting”, as it is still often called locally. The recent acoustic data confirm in the loudest way possible that this appalling practice continues unabated in 5 Ionian Islands: Zante, Paxi, Antipaxi, Mathraki and Othoni.
The acoustic monitoring of hunting pressures in the Ionian begun in 2019 when HOS/BirdLife Greece installed the first acoustic sensors in the most notorious poaching sites in Zante. In the following 2 years and within the framework of the LIFE Against Bird Crime project, the monitoring network extended to 10 sites in a total of 6 islands. According to data analysis performed by the Forest Research Institute of the Hellenic Agricultural Organisation “DEMETER”, in less than 3 months more than 20,900 gunshots were recorded in 9 of the hunting sites monitored by the PAM grid. Taking into account the total number of known hunting sites and gunshot to killed/injured bird ratio for similar species, the authors were able to estimate that up to 57,095 turtle doves and other migratory birds were killed or injured across the region in spring of 2021.
It was in the exact same period in 2021 that the Greek Ministry of Environment activated for the first time the Local Action Plans against spring poaching in the Ionian Islands. The Greek state signed the LAPs with considerable delay and only after being pressured by HOS / BirdLife Greece, partner organization of the transboundary LIFE Against Bird Crime project. Within the framework of these LAPs, every spring the Ministry is expected to order local Forestries to initiate anti-poaching patrols across the Ionian Islands. In 2021, even though the acoustic sensors recorded thousands of shootings while these patrols were out in the field, surprisingly none of them succeeded in catching even a single poacher red-handed, nor did they report even a single poaching incident in these islands.
Indicative of the lack of congruence between the recorded data and the authorities’ reporting from the field, are the results of the patrolling of an area in Zante on the 13th of April 2021. Even though on the said day the authorities had reportedly seen and heard nothing, the acoustic sensor installed in the same area recorded 578 gunshots! The evidence unquestionably suggest that spring poaching in the Ionian Islands is not only going strong but also tolerated by competent authorities and in spite of movement restrictions due to Covid-19 that were in place at the time.
Based on the fact that, for the first time, both the existence and the intensity of spring poaching in the Ionian islands are proven by undisputed and scientifically documented data, HOS / BirdLife Greece is calling the Ministry of Environment to take all necessary actions in order to uproot and at last to eradicate spring poaching – a devastating practice that is shameful and a disgrace for Greece and its people.
Written by HOS/BirdLife Greece