The Czech environment ministry has joined forces with wildlife groups to formulate new policies designed to battle poaching. According to the ministry, endangered protected species are still being illegally poached in the Czech Republic – including otters, wolves, lynxes and birds of prey. And the trend, says the ministry, has actually worsened in recent years. I spoke with Tereza Mináriková of NGO Alka Wildlife and began by asking her what was fuelling the Czech poaching industry.
“I wouldn’t call it an industry. I think Czech poaching is really a series of uncoordinated actions. There are basically two reasons why poaching occurs. One is that the fur of some protected animals is still seen as a good trophy to have above your fireplace. The second reason is that some of these species were hunted in the past and people remain of the view that there is a traditional right to hunt them. And also they are viewed as pest species which cause damage – for example that otters damage fish stocks by hunting in ponds and streams for food. And with large carnivores such as lynxes, or wolves, or bears, these animals hunt in the forest and are thus also felt to be pest species.”
And in the cases of lynxes and otters – you say human hunters put them up above their fireplaces. So they are not being sold. There is no market for such products?
“There probably is a market of some kind, but I wouldn’t say that there is a major business in this. Rather, protected species are mainly being hunted by locals for fur for their own possession. I don’t think such items are sold widely.”
Officially, illegal poaching of animals such as the ones you mentioned carries a sentence of up to three years in prison, with eight year prison terms for the most serious offences.
So why is this illegal hunting still happening if such serious sanctions are in place?
“I think there is a kind of sense that such cases are very difficult to investigate. We have never [in this country] seen a person forced to serve such a prison term for poaching. As well as the view that such cases are difficult to prove is the perception by hunters that they have a right to hunt these animals. I believe that Czech poachers believe themselves to be immune from prosecution.”
The Ministry of the Environment is currently having discussions with groups such as your ALKA Wildlife with regards to making life more difficult for poachers. So what new policies are being discussed?
“One major initiative regards publicity – to inform people that poaching is a really serious threat to endangered species. And that people really should take action when they come across a case of a poached or shot animal. That they really should involve the police and should co-operate because this is a serious issue. Another tool which we have in our arsenal is money specially set aside for investigations. This enables laboratory analysis to determine if a protected animal has been poisoned, or enabling an autopsy to be carried out. This means that as much proof as possible can be collected and handed over to police so that they can best conduct their investigations.”
And the Ministry of the Environment - will they come up with some specific recommendations?
“Yes – a public awareness campaign urging that people not partake in poaching, and report it when they see it, and help in the overall effort to end this activity.”
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