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Monday, 02 March 2009 14:48

Poisoning near Glenveagh

Dead Golden Eagle Dead Golden Eagle (c) Lorcan O'Toole


Toxicology tests carried out yesterday confirm that a Golden Eagle found recently in Glenveagh National Park was illegally poisoned.

A satellite tagged Golden Eagle was found dead on a hillside in County Donegal on Thursday, the 19th February 2009. The bird (Dark Blue/Light Blue L) was found within Glenveagh National Park, on the mountains between the townland of Tore, Crolly and Dunlewey village. The bird was located at the remote spot using an accurate locational signal relayed via satellite to the project’s computers , from the satellite tag attached to the bird prior to release, and using a hand held Global Positioning System (GPS) to arrive at the exact co-ordinates on the mountain. This young female was collected from the island of Mull in Scotland and released in Glenveagh in August 2008 and was approx 10 months old. The State Laboratory, at Backweston, Celbridge confirmed on Sunday 1st March that the bird died from poisoning. For operational reasons, the type of poison used is not being disclosed at present.

The bird was found facing down in rank heather, wings out stretched. It had a full crop of food when found, indicating it had eaten shortly before it died. Some of its feathers on its left wing were broken, suggesting the bird had been thrashing about in pain prior to its death. The bird was dead for over 2 weeks, but was probably frozen and covered in snow for some of that time.

Satellite Tag
The North Star satellite tag was purchased and attached to the eagle primarily to try to uncover and locate birds that may be persecuted, and left uncovered in any remote spot in the Northwest of Ireland, and difficult to locate by more conventional radio tracking devices. Unfortunately this relatively new tracking device, utilising small solar panels for power, did not work as effectively as envisaged and did not transmit data from where the bird was prior to its untimely death.

History of Persecution in this Area
Apart from the loss of this bird, we believe we may have lost others birds to persecution in this area, since 2005. We know that a young pair of Golden Eagles (Blue 5 and Green N) that occupied a territory centred around Tore and Dunlewey, incorporating Crocknafarragh, Grogan More, Eadarna Mhor and Eadarna Bheag, Crocknasharragh and the Slieve Snaght Mountains, in the spring of 2006. Neither of these birds has been seen since and eagles very rarely die from natural causes at that age and we now believe that they were also poisoned. Though we accept we have not recovered other eagle corpses, we believe that several other Golden Eagles have died in this vicinity and we strongly suspect that these birds had been persecuted.

Local Support
The Golden Eagle Trust is very anxious to highlight the enormous support and goodwill the project enjoys in Donegal, among the rural and urban communities, the farming and tourism sector and indeed beyond Donegal itself. We have a very good relationship with the Donegal Irish Farmers Association. We do not see this as a classic wildlife versus farming interest clash, because the Golden Eagle project enjoys widespread support among Donegal rural communities, where farming and local tourism play such an integral part of the economic and employment for local communities. Dunlewey and Crolly are well known tourism sites in Donegal and Golden Eagles have helped raise the profile of their respective Mountainous backdrops.

The person that put out poison on this meat bait would have been aware of the presence of Golden Eagles in this area, as it is within or adjacent to the release area in Glenveagh National Park. They would have been aware of the risk to scavenging eagles from all poisoned meat baits. Indeed the Golden Eagle Trust has spoken to all key stakeholders in this particular area, unlike areas further afield. They clearly have little respect for the native wildlife or heritage they are surrounded by. But we would nonetheless appeal to them, even if they have no regard for eagles that they would acknowledge that their indiscriminate poisoning has a negative impact on the local tourism sector and the crucial employment this provides for some of their neighbours in West Donegal during these difficult economic times.

At this stage, if they were unmolested, Golden Eagles would now be breeding in this area, boosting the business of local B&Bs, hostels, hotels and restaurants in Dunlewey, Gweedore and Crolly. Whilst Golden Eagles are difficult wild animals to observe, their presence and the media interest they generate have clearly helped the wider promotion of this beautiful part of Donegal. Glenveagh National Park is the primary tourism attraction in Donegal and the Golden Eagle project has helped increase its visitor numbers year on year since its inception in 2001.

Golden Eagles are a crucial part of Ireland’s natural and cultural heritage and this project has been largely funded by taxpayers money (especially the funding from the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Údarás na Gaeltachta, the National Millennium Committee, the Heritage Council and EU LIFE Nature). We believe the vast majority of local people, their community representatives and local businesses support the aims of the Golden Eagle restoration programme and would condemn this wilful waste of public resources. While no Irish individual or group owns these wild birds they are clearly a key measure of the Irish people’s attitude toward the countryside we all inhabit.

Post Mortem
The Garda Síochána was informed of the incident immediately and their inquiries are on- going. The dead Golden Eagle was brought to the Department of Agriculture, Regional Veterinary Laboratory in Sligo for a post mortem. The bird was x-rayed and shooting has now been ruled out as a cause of death. The young female was found to be in excellent condition, with large reserves of fat visible during the post mortem and clean plumage indicative of an active and healthy bird. The crop, where eagles store eaten food prior to digestion was full of fresh meat, usually an indicator that the bird died shortly after eating meat or meat bait. Samples from the food in the crop and samples taken from the eagle’s organs were sent to the State Laboratory, in Backweston, Cellbridge for toxicology analysis. Samples were also sent to the Irish Equine Centre for DNA analysis, to determine the type of animal used as the meat bait, as part of the inquiry.

Future Outlook for the Golden Eagle Project - What can be Done?
The loss of several Golden Eagles, probably due to human persecution, on the edge or within Glenveagh National Park represents a real threat to the entirety of the Golden Eagle project. Though many birds have repeatedly passed through this area unmolested, we acknowledge that we may have unwittingly lost several more birds in this area. Such a concentrated loss of birds represents a real threat to the potential success of the entire project. We have already been severely criticised by some of the Scottish estates, who provide the majority of Scottish donor stock, for the poor enforcement of poisoning legislation in Ireland and this recent incident could seriously undermine future efforts to complete our release programme quickly.

If this project is to succeed the authorities need to acknowledge this ongoing risk to Eagles, both in Donegal and Kerry, and wholeheartedly enforce all the conditions of the current poisoning legislation and ancillary regulations including; requiring poisoning signs to be erected by landowners using poison and the requirement to inform the local Garda station in writing that poison is being used. Under Animal by products regulations, dead livestock, if found, can no longer be intentionally left above ground and used as poison meat baits. Many landowners are dependent on both the Single Farm Payment, which clearly states the need for cross compliance with the Birds Directive (protecting Annex I species such as Golden Eagles), and the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) which was established to protect the environment.

We have been lobbying the Department of Environment and the Department of Agriculture (in submissions as part of periodic reviews of the Rural Environment Protection Scheme) for a complete ban on all poison meat baits for the last 8 years. Unfortunately, the lack of confirmed poisoning results was often deemed to undermine our case - though the obvious consequences of scavenging birds of prey eating poison meat baits were clearly known across other European wildlife and agricultural sectors. Over the last the last 16 months alone, we have managed to recover and confirm that 1 Golden Eagle, 4 White-tailed Eagles and 1 Red Kite have been poisoned in Ireland. The Irish poisoning legislation is now demonstrably in breach of the European Birds Directive.

The Golden Eagle Trust has asked and believe that the key statutory authorities, namely the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Department of Agriculture and the Garda Síochána, will liaise fully and continue to investigate this incident, carry out inspections locally and try to ensure anyone involved in the illegal use of poison to be held accountable under the law and fined if breaches of their the Single Farm Payment scheme agreement are uncovered. We would also appeal to people living in the area to be vigilant and notify the authorities if any suspicious dead carcasses or meat baits are found or if their dogs or pets are found dead in suspicious circumstances in this area. Some poisons can be lethal to adults and children, so please do not touch any of these dead animals before or after reporting them.

The Golden Eagle Trust would like to fully acknowledge the fulsome support from the Irish Farmers Association in Donegal and emphasise our belief that the actions of the individual responsible for this indiscriminate use of poison in no way represents the legitimate and vital role farming plays in the rural fabric of West Donegal. We are determined to tackle this problem vigorously. We firmly believe a small viable Golden Eagle population can easily co-exist with hill farming in this area, as happens elsewhere in Donegal, and continue to enhance Donegal’s heritage and continue to attract visitors to Donegal. Whilst it is embarrassing and demoralising to confirm the use of poison within or on the edge Glenveagh National Park, we sincerely hope this incident will galvanise widespread local, and vocal, support from the vast majority of people who respect the beauty of their Donegal homes and heritage.

Lorcán O Toole, Golden Eagle Project Manager
Golden Eagle Trust, Carrowtrasna, Churchill, County Donegal
2nd March 2009.

Please contact the following for more details or their views concerning the incident;
Lorcan O Toole Golden Eagle Project Manager Tel. O87 1310177
Davie Keith, Irish Farmers Association, Raphoe tel 086 2625589

Last modified on Friday, 09 March 2012 17:29