Criminals taking advantage of COVID-19 crisis to attack protected birds of prey, WWF-Austria warns

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Criminals are using the COVID-19 pandemic as cover for a significant increase in wildlife crime in Central and Eastern Europe, WWF-Austria has warned. 

In March alone, at least 27 protected birds of prey were killed illegally in Austria and another three in neighboring Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia. Several other suspected cases are still being investigated and clarified, while the number of unreported cases is likely to be much higher, WWF-Austria said.

“While public life is severely restricted and the authorities are focused on fighting the pandemic, dozens of protected animals are victims of unscrupulous criminals,” says Christina Wolf-Petre, species protection expert at WWF-Austria.

Birds of prey play a key role in the ecosystem, and also reflect the health status of their environment. However, despite their protected status, birds of prey are still seen as “competitors” by some hunters and farmers.

“Birds of prey fly far beyond national borders on their forays. It is therefore particularly important that we can work across borders to combat their persecution,” says Wolf-Petre.

Removing a top predator can often alter the gentle balance of an entire ecosystem, WWF-Austria warns, and that is not just the case with birds.

In CEE, the WWF is cooperating with Interpol to train local law enforcement, prosecutors, police and customs officers to be more effective in their fight against illegal logging and working on the root causes of poaching of strictly protected sturgeon and large carnivores such as lynx, brown bears and wolves.

According to Interpol, environmental crime now ranks as the third largest criminal sector worldwide, WWF-Austria adds.

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