Poison: Raptor Russian Roulette

Northern Ireland. Home to George Best, Giants Causeway, miles of picturesque coastal scenery and the trail of the HMS Titanic. Recently, I had the fortune to visit Northern Ireland for the first time, Belfast to be precise, and although my trip was short, I was both excited and enthused by my trip. However, in this article, my attentions are unfortunately not focused on the greatness of Northern Ireland, but on the more sinister side. A sinister side, which is not unique to Northern Ireland and is deep rooted in the history of the UK. A sinister side that centres around poison. Poison and birds of prey (is it odd that my iPod is now voluntarily playing ‘Poison’ by Alice Cooper?)



Once again, raptor persecution has hit the wildlife headlines. This time we find ourselves in Northern Ireland, with the bodies of a peregrine falcon and two buzzards on our hands. The peregrine, was found in Ballymena quarry, one buzzard was found in Glenarm forest and the second was found near Glenarm. All have been found to be the victims of poisoning. The peregrine and one buzzard had ingested the pesticide carbofuran, and the second buzzard had ingested a rat poison called alphachloralose. Both these poisons are of course highly dangerous, and the use of them to target wildlife is, quite frankly, utterly irresponsible. Carbofuran, which was used at a quarry site, has been described by Dr Marc Ruddock of the Northern Ireland raptor study group, as ‘lethal’, with the usage of it in the quarry being further labelled as ‘mind boggling.’ As a working quarry, there is the very real possibility that a human could have been poisoned by the baits.

The peregrine falcon was found dead at the quarry last month, whilst the buzzards were both found dead in March. All three bodies were subjected to testing and the poisons were found in their systems. When it comes to raptor persecution, those who commit this crime have a plethora of available options. Poisoning, shooting and trapping are all an option. Albeit illegal options, but that seems to do little to deter and these methods are commonly utilised. However, ignoring the illegality and naivety of all of these actions, poisoning is possibly the most reckless, the most irresponsible and the most foolish of all (not that they all aren’t). Because as a poisoner, although you may have one specific target in mind, how can you possibly control what you poison? What happens when you poison the wrong animal? What happens when you poison a human?



In the countryside where I live, my dogs are constantly discovering dead animals. Unfortunately, despite my attempts to stop him, one of my dogs will eat a dead rabbit, grouse, pheasant, or pretty much anything he comes across. I live in constant fear that one of these carcasses will be poisoned. I live in constant fear that one of my beloved dogs will consume a poison that will kill him or her. And I tell you now, if such an event happened, I would not rest until I found out who was responsible. But enough of my dramatic threats, because something else has sprung to my attention. Yesterday evening I went for a run on a stretch of moorland not far from me. On my run I came across a small girl and her dog. They were sitting in the heather together and were presumably playing some sort of game. Now, I am not suggesting that this girl, or any other, is about to go and eat a dead animal, but what if she got it on her hands? What if she took a dead animal from her dog? What if somehow, she managed to get poison on herself? What if, she was poisoned? It may sound farfetched, but stranger things have happened.



Raptor persecution in itself is irresponsible, naive, foolish and not to mention illegal. But what happens when raptor persecution no longer targets raptors? What about when it inadvertently targets a families much loved pet dog or cat? What about when it harms, or even worse, kills an adult or a child? Poisoning raptors, or any animal for that matter, is irresponsible to say the least. Poison does not discriminate when it comes to choosing its victims. It could be a bird of prey, or it could be a human. Attempting to poison an animal is possibly the most risky version of russian roulette every invented. You never know who is going to lose. Don’t play the game, you might end up losing. Raptors are an important, beautiful and majestic part of our natural heritage, do not try to destroy that. Raptor persecution should be a thing of the past and when it is, my preaching on the subject will also be consigned to history (thank god, you seem to say).

Do not break the law and try to kill raptors. Do not break the law and kill a human.


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Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard
I have been a bird enthusiast since I was a child and have just completed my MSc at Newcastle University on 'Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management.'
Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard

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