The illegal use of poison is one of the main threats to two priority large carnivore species of the Habitats Directive ? the brown bear (Ursus arctos) and the wolf (Canis lupus) ? as well as to several scavenger raptor species.
Each year in Italy several cases of poisoning are reported, although it is thought these represent only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, the practice remains mostly undiscovered due to the fact that the carcasses of wild animals are rarely found, especially if they are of very rare species. Furthermore, cases of poisoning are not always reported.
The use of poison baits also remains widespread: sometimes the poison targets are the protected species themselves. But at other times, protected species are caught up in, for example, local quarrels among truffle searchers or between truffle searchers and hunters. The use of poison baits is most common in areas frequented by the wolf and in the brown bear distribution area in the Apennines. The Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) is another common victim of poison. Other species that are particularly vulnerable to poisoning are the red kite (Milvus milvus), the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) and the bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).
The LIFE PLUTO project?s overall objective is to favour the conservation of the brown bear, wolf and scavenger raptors in Italy, by carrying out large-scale measures for preventing and fighting the illegal use of poison.
A cornerstone of the project is the use of anti-poisoning dog units (known by their Italian acronym NCAs) over a significant part of the country. Specifically, it aims to set up six units, run by the Italian forest service, together with two units covering the Gran Sasso-Laga national park. Each unit will consist of one dog trainer and two dogs. The eight NCAs will together operate over all of central and southern Italy, covering 11 regions in total. The units will carry out routine inspections in the areas most at risk, as well as urgent inspections once a poison carcass or bait is found, in order to clear the territory of other poison.