RSPB on high alert as more and more red kites fall victim to alleged poisoning
Criminals using poison to target red kites are getting away scot free, according to the RSPB.
The group, which was responsible for reintroducing the species to Northern Ireland 200 years after it was persecuted to extinction, says wildlife criminals are faced with the "perfect situation" to carry out their deeds, as it is taking months to diagnose cases of illegal poisoning.
Four red kites have been found dead this year – amounting to 30% of the breeding population in Northern Ireland.
Of the four dead birds, two were breeding males, one was a breeding female and one was a juvenile. The female was found dead in the nest where she was incubating two eggs, meaning the chicks inside also perished.
The RSPB said the dead birds were sent to the Agri Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) to determine whether they had been victims of poisoning but it has taken months for the results to come back.
Results for one bird found in January came back to the RSPB in August. The organisation still hasn't received results for another red kite found dead in April and two more found in August.
"The red kites are a reintroduced species and any death at all is a terrible setback for us," senior conservation officer Michelle Hill said.
"It is even more pronounced when you have such long delays in getting those results back.
"It means it's a perfect situation for the criminals. With such a long delay in any follow-up that comes out of that, it makes it almost impossible to try and follow that up."
The RSPB had to meet certain criteria set by international conservation body IUCN to carry out Northern Ireland's only reintroduction programme to date and that includes monitoring the reintroduced birds and their descendants, she said.
"Part of that is knowing what happened to these birds," she said.
"If people feel they can do something illegal and know there is very little chance of getting caught, logic would suggest that they will repeatedly do it."
When contacted by the Belfast Telegraph, AFBI said there are no outstanding diagnoses for cause of death of red kites and all reports have been issued to the PSNI.
The organisation said that in the light of the concerns over poisoning, AFBI has started fast-tracking diagnoses.
South Down DUP MLA Jim Wells, a member of the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group, said he has experienced similar delays after handing in a peregrine falcon for analysis after finding it dead in the Broughshane area.
Red kites could be lost from Northern Ireland as a species if there isn't better co-operation in dealing with possible poisoning, Mr Wells added.
"If you are going to take formal action against the people responsible and prevent this from happening again, you need to know the results rapidly," he said.
The Belfast Telegraph contacted the PSNI yesterday but nobody was available for comment.
The RSPB successfully released 80 red kites into Northern Irish skies between 2008 and 2010. The species was persecuted to extinction in Northern Ireland more than 200 years ago. The birds have become a familiar sight in the skies of South Down. The magnificently graceful bird of prey is unmistakable with its reddish-brown body, angled wings and deeply forked tail.