The illegal use of poison is, unfortunately, a widespread practice throughout Europe, in the countryside as in the city. In addition to being a danger to humans and pets, it represents an increasingly pressing threat to the survival of large predators such as the wolf and brown bear and raptors necrophages such as the Egyptian vulture, the bearded vulture and the red kite .
Even in this field, however, our four-legged friends come to our aid. The dog’s nose contains 250-300 million olfactory cells (we have just five million of them): that’s why his powerful sense of smell is precious in many areas.
One of the most recent activities that uses the powerful canine nose is precisely the search for poisoned baits and morsels with the help of dogs trained for this purpose.
These dogs are true heroes who save wild and domestic animals from the poisoned morsels that uncivilized and criminals scatter in the woods, in the countryside and even in the cities.
To them and their conductors goes the gratitude of all of us who love nature and life! Let’s find them out together.
1. An abominable practice. At risk animals, people and the environment
The poison is hidden in palatable baits or in animal carcasses scattered throughout the area (large photo, below).
Animals that feed on poisoned baits or carcasses die in excruciating suffering, becoming in turn deadly tanks for other animals that feed on carcasses, triggering an unstoppable chain of death.
The poison is sometimes used to defend livestock and species hunted by predators, other times to eliminate the dogs of “opponents”, which is very common in the profitable sector of truffle hunting.
Furthermore, the poison is used to exterminate feline colonies or to get rid of “guilty” dogs to defile the city streets.
The most used poisons are i pesticides, i slug pellets and i rodenticides, although many of these have banned their use and sale for many years.
Let’s not forget that this abominable practice can have repercussions on the whole environment, just think that poisoned baits or carcasses abandoned near rivers, for example, can endanger the health and life of people and pets and that bites masked with something colorful can attract children.
2. Sniffing and high predisposition to play: here are the qualities of poison dogs
There is no dog breed more suited to the particular task of identifying and reporting poisoned morsels.
Certainly, however, a good poison dog must have an excellent sense of smell, high motivation to play, an attitude of exploration and high sociability.
The training of these dogs must take into account the peculiarities of the breed: a Malinois, for example, is more neurile than a Labrador, generally more peaceful.
It is a training method that uses positive reinforcement: the dog is rewarded when he successfully completes his activity, otherwise he is neither rewarded nor punished.
This leads him to repeat an action that has brought him an advantage that takes the form of obtaining a prize, a caress of approval and then a game, such as a ball or a sleeve. That’s why these dogs must have a high motivation to play, which must be built in the training phases.
The game used as a reward, however, satisfies various needs of the dog: the primary need of the instinct of predation, through the pursuit of a ball, but also the secondary needs of the instinct of competitiveness with the “push and pull” and social contact through the caresses.
This very strong motivation will prove to be fundamental when the poisoned morsel is found: the dog, concentrated on the reward he will receive for having done his exercise well, will not be interested in eating it, but will signal the presence of the bait sitting next to it and will wait for his well-deserved reward.
The training does not stop there: an improvement activity is carried out every day that alternates sessions of obedience to simulated poison research and physical training sessions.
The activity with poisoning dogs is mainly preventive, with a control of the territory in the areas most at risk, while emergency exits are carried out upon reporting of the discovery of poisoned morsels or animals dead from suspected poisoning and have the aim of reclaim the affected area and exercise dissuasive action.
3. Life Antidote
People started talking about poison dogs in the Spanish region of Andalusia in 2004: the first one was formed here Anti-Poison Dog Unit (NCA) and the idea immediately proved successful.
Following this success, since 2009 the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park, the Junta de Andalucía and the Gobierno de Aragón (Spain) have started the project Life Antidote (www.life-antidoto.eu), funded by the Community Life program, in order to implement a series of innovative measures to know, prevent and deal with the illegal use of poison.
Operating since 2010, the two Anti-Poison Dog Units created by the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park as part of the Life Antidote project continue to work mainly in the Gran Sasso-Laga National Park and in the distribution area of the Marsican brown bear (between Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise,) thanks to funding from the Ministry of the Environment.
An NCA is managed by the Gran Sasso-Laga Park Authority and is made up of three dogs (the Belgian Shepherds Malinois Maya and Karma and the Border Collie Datcha) and the conductor of the Park Authority Alberto Angelini; the other NCA is managed by the Carabinieri Territorial Coordination for the Environment of the Cfs of the Gran Sasso-Laga Park, with two dogs (the Malinois Dingo and the Labrador Jonai) and the conductor, Chief Brigadier Alessandra Mango.
No case of poisoning has been recorded in the Gran Sasso-Laga park in the past five years; in addition, the Life Antidote project has prompted institutions and institutions to deal with the illegal use of poison and in many areas of Italy initiatives have started to address the problem, such as the Life Pluto project.
4. Another initiative. In 2014 the Life Pluto project started
Born in 2014 and lasting five years, the project Life Pluto (www.lifepluto.it) contemplates numerous synergistic measures aimed at contrasting the use of poison thanks to the use of Anti-Poison Dog Units.
In addition, specific training courses and awareness meetings are held involving other figures such as breeders, truffle hunters and hunters.
The project led to the activation of six NCAs by the Forestry Carabinieri (former State Forestry Corps), each consisting of a handler and two dogs, which operate throughout central and southern Italy covering a total of eleven regions.
These are the two and four-legged protagonists:
– in the Foreste Casentinesi, Monte Falterona and Campigna National Park the Carabiniere chosen by Sc. Nicola Gonfiacani with Puma (Malinois) and Titán (Labrador);
– in the Monti Sibillini National Park the Brigadier Capo Giovanni Bucciarelli with Vida (Malinois) and Malta (Labrador);
– in the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park the App. Alessandro Carfagnini with Noche (Malinois) and Byron (Labrador);
– to the Provincial Command of Isernia the App. Andrea Lamarucciola with Africa (Malinois) and Furia (Labrador);
– in the Cilento, Vallo di Diano and Alburni National Park the App. chosen Federico Ferraro with Danko (Labrador) and Gala (Malinois);
– in the Pollino National Park the Brigadier Cosimo Cervellera with Thor (Labrador) and Kyra (Malinois).
The six NCAs began operating in July 2016, carrying out a total of 59 periodic inspections and 21 urgent inspections; the latter, which were activated following the reporting of bites or other suspicious materials, were successful in nine cases.
The Cores conducted careful research in the affected areas, clearing them from potentially poisoned morsels. The nine positive inspections were registered by the Nuclei based in the Casentinesi Forest National Park, Monte Falterona and Campigna, in the province of Isernia (Molise) and in the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park.
In total, thanks to the irreplaceable abilities of the Puma, Noche and Africa dogs, these three NCA have found 24 suspect bites, four animal carcasses and various materials useful for subsequent investigations.
In 2017, the first positive inspection was recorded in early February near San Sepolcro (AR) by the Anti-Poison Dog Unit of the Carabinieri Territorial Coordination for the Environment of the Casentinesi Forest National Park.
Malinois Puma and his tenant found a bite consisting of a sausage containing black granules, which was then taken to the Lazio and Tuscany Experimental Zooprophylactic Institute for analysis.
5. On the Alps and in the Apennines
– On the Alps dogs in aid of their ancestors
As part of the European project Life WolfAlps (www.lifewolfalps.eu) for the long-term conservation of the alpine wolf population and the stable coexistence between the predator and traditional economic activities, five dogs were trained from the breeding of the Spanish professional Raul Martin Molina who were then entrusted to the respective Venetian and Piedmontese drivers.
Exceptions are Luna and Trilli who have been trained in Italy; Trilli has recently started to replace Zac and has been trained by Elio Martini who is also his conductor.
These are the conductors: Emanuele Gallo Appuntato Chosen of the Carabinieri Forestali station of Borgo San Dalmazzo (CN), Simone Peraldo, Carabiniere Chosen of the Carabinieri Forestale station of Omegna (VB), Giuseppe Gerbotto of Chiusa Pesio (CN), guard of the Maritime Alps park, Gian Abele Bonicelli from Avigliana (TO), park guard of the Cottian Alps, Elio Martini from Villanova Mondovì (CN), dog trainer.
And these are their four-legged: Kira and Puma (Malinois), Nala and Luna (Labrador), Luna (Epagneul Breton) and Zac, a “Grisons” German Shepherd, the only male in the group.
– The other operating units in Central Italy and in the province of Grosseto
the project Life MIRCO-Lupo (Minimizing the Impact of Canine Stray on Wolf Conservation in Italy – www.lifemircolupo.it) aims to ensure better conservation conditions for the wolf by acting, in particular, on stray and stray dogs, with two Carabinieri Anti-poison Dog Units Foresters: Alma, Labrador Retriever, and Loba, German Shepherd.
The area includes the Tuscan-Emilian Apennine National Park. In the Grosseto area, as part of the project Life MedWolf, (www.medwolf.eu) for the conservation of the wolf in the Mediterranean areas, Mora and Lapa are operating, led by Simona Palmieri, a chosen journalist of the Forestry Carabinieri.