Fury as three protected red kites found dead after poisoning

RARE birds of prey from an award-winning Scots breeding project have been found poisoned.

Three red kites from the Argaty Red Kite Project in Perthshire were found poisoned, with a post-mortem examination on the birds revealing extremely high levels of a toxin in their systems.

One of the birds killed had fathered 16 red kite chicks since his release into the wild in 1999. One of his chicks was also killed.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Experts say the high level of toxin means the poisonings could not have been an accident, and police are investigating with wildlife experts.

Lynn Bowser, who runs the Argaty project - given a three-star award by VisitScotland - said that while red kites were scavengers that ate only dead animals such as crows and rabbits, they were often targeted by gamekeepers, who viewed all birds of prey as a threat.

She said: "This must have been a deliberate act - there is no other way that such high levels of toxin could be in these birds. We are very angry about it.

"These birds are not a threat to anything. They don't eat anything much other than the carcasses of dead animals.

"They won't go about killing pheasants or grouse or blackbirds. They are simply scavengers. Why anyone would want to do this is one of those unanswerable questions." Mrs Bowser added that poison traps laid for the red kites could easily be picked up by other animals or even people.

She said: "The typical way that one of these birds gets poisoned is that someone will lace a rabbit carcass with poison and lay it out.

"What people don't realise is that today it was a red kite killed, but tomorrow it could be a dog or even your child.

"I am very sad about losing these kites, but this project has been a success story and we hope that will continue."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Mike McDonnell, head ranger at Argaty Red Kite Project, said: "I am sickened at this selfish and totally needless act.

"One of the dead birds has been a frequent visitor to the feeding station since his release here and has given pleasure to hundreds of visitors with his wonderful flying displays.

"He has been a regular breeder in that time, and it is particularly sad that another of the victims is one of his offspring."

The deaths are the latest in a spate of poisonings of red kites across Scotland.

Red kites were common in Scotland 250 years ago, but were hunted to extinction.

Reintroduction schemes have resulted in around 80 breeding pairs existing in Scotland, with populations now well established in parts of the country.

In July, several red kites reintroduced to the Highlands by the Harrods boss, Mohamed al-Fayed, were found poisoned near Tomintoul, Aviemore and Fort Augustus.

The RSPB say such poisoning incidents are on the increase.

James Reynolds, of RSPB Scotland, described the incident as "shameful".

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He said: "The continuing illegal persecution of red kites in Scotland is deplorable, irresponsible and criminal. As these shameful incidents at Argaty demonstrate, their impact can spread way beyond persecution of rare, protected species, and can damage businesses and other interests in the area.

"Lynn and Niall Bowser, who run the Argaty centre, have worked incredibly hard to develop a fantastic attraction that not only develops awareness of this species, but also shows how they can happily exist side by side with a modern, working farm and shoot."

Mr Reynolds added: "That someone has chosen to threaten this is a disgrace."

The RSPB has called for courts to use the full penalties available to them to deter wildlife criminals.

The maximum penalty for killing a bird of prey is six months' imprisonment and a 10,000 fine under the Wildlife and Countryside act, but no-one has yet been jailed for an offence against birds of prey other than egg collecting.

• WILDLIFE experts say the poisoning of birds of prey is on the increase, hampering efforts to reintroduce raptors across Scotland.

An RSPB report published in September found that 2006 was the worst year in 25 years, with 42 confirmed incidents - more than double the 19 confirmed in 2005.

A further 85 cases of persecution by other means were recorded in 2006.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In the past 12 years a total of 494 birds of prey, including eagles, kites and hen harriers, have been poisoned, shot or had their nests destroyed in Scotland.

In August this year, one half of a breeding pair of golden eagles was found dead in the Borders.

Tests showed the banned substance carbofuran - a substance used to control insects in field crops - was involved and the RSPB offered a 1,000 reward for information about the case.

In July three red kites were found poisoned on Mohamed al-Fayed's 65,000-acre Balnagowan Estate, where the birds were being raised as part of a conservation effort by the Harrods owner.

The Scotsman is committed to helping the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals catch those responsible for killing birds of prey and other wildlife.

Information about raptor poisonings and other incidents of wildlife crime can be passed to police via the National Wildlife Crime Unit in North Berwick on 01620 893607.

Related topics: