More than 90 birds of prey have been poisoned in Northern Ireland since 2006, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has revealed.
The minister has pledged to improve the way wildlife crime is tackled in the province following a wildlife crime summit attended by nearly 30 organisations.
Mr Durkan said poisoning of birds of prey was an issue of huge concern and one that could hopefully be addressed by the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (PAW), which includes the PSNI, animal welfare and countryside sports organisations.
"I am delighted to be in a position where my department can play a key role in the fight against animal cruelty. It's something that would really disgust any right-minded individual, when we see incidences of animal cruelty in our newspapers and in our news bulletins," he said.
"Our wildlife plays a very important role in our ecosystem. The abuse of these species is an appalling crime, which I know sickens the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland.
"We really need to bring this issue much higher up the agenda. The legal powers are already embedded. Most people will know deer poaching and badger-baiting is a crime. How many people know that they could get a criminal record if they even injure a bat or steal an egg from a bird of prey?"
Mr Durkan called on the public to be vigilant and report any crime against wildlife to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
"It is not just about injuring animals. There is much publicity about contaminated fuel. But what about contaminated meat? Have you been offered venison off the back of a lorry? The seller is committing a crime. Further, you will not know how that meat has been processed. Are you prepared to gamble with the contents of your dinner?" he said. "I am enthused The Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime exists and by the work it does. We need all the relevant groups to be a strong voice working together to bring this issue much further up the agenda. We need the public to take wildlife crime much more seriously and report these crimes to Crimestoppers."
Mr Durkan said it was vital that groups dealing with wildlife crime worked together.
"It's a case of groups working together to ensure the most efficient use of resources possible so that we can have as big an impact as possible but without duplicating effort," he said.
"It's good to see so many people together with such expertise and such passion about animal welfare. There are some out there who have no sympathy or compassion for animals whatsoever and use them for their own entertainment."
It's thought five red kites were poisoned in Northern Ireland last year, amounting to 30% of the breeding population. The RSPB successfully released 80 red kites into our skies between 2008 and 2010. The species was persecuted to extinction in the north of Ireland more than 200 years ago. The magnificently graceful bird of prey is unmistakable, with its reddish-brown body, angled wings and deeply forked tail.