THESSALONIKI – Concern is mounting in northern Greece over the fact that poachers and farmers are using poisoned bait to kill birds and carnivorous mammals, many of which are threatened species, despite a ban on poisoned bait since 1993. According to a survey by the Hellenic Ornithological Association (EOE), WWF Hellas (the Dadia program) and the Arcturos bear sanctuary, these baits have also been used in other European countries and are extremely harmful to the environment and humans. Balkan environmental organizations joining forces to save rare bird species have drafted a Balkan Action Plan to protect birds of prey. Recently an environmental organization in Croatia reported the poisoning of 28 vultures in an area with one of the two remaining natural populations of this species in the Balkans. Arcturos condemned the poisoning in Grevena of six Greek sheepdogs, a breed of dog under threat of extinction in Greece. According to the survey, strychnine, potassium cyanide, shards of glass and pesticide have been wiping out eagles, vultures, foxes, wolves, sheepdogs, badgers and domestic animals. In just the last six years, the deaths by poisoning of 13 bears have been recorded in Greece, which amounts to one-15th of the entire population of bears. EOE and WWF Hellas issued a questionnaire whose results reveal the extent of the problem. «These poisons (are being used) in an irresponsible and uncontrolled way, exterminating rare and threatened species. The toxic remnants of these poisons can be catastrophic for the food chain, killing domestic animals and hunting dogs and disturbing the ecological balance,» said the report. Theodora Skartsi, coordinator of the Dadia Evros program, told Kathimerini that between 1960 and 1980, these poisons were widely used to protect herds from wolves, but also wiped out vultures, which have disappeared over large areas of Europe. During the 1980s, strychnine was banned, although hunters and farmers used potassium cyanide to kill foxes, badgers and crows. In the 1990s, after a complete ban was imposed on the use of poisoned baits, the illegal use of these poisons reached epidemic proportions in many European countries. EOE’s campaign emphasizes that «illegal baits are the most serious cause of the reduction and localized disappearance of carrion birds.» The number of birds of prey killed with the use of poison is increasing every year in many European countries, including Greece. Arcturos says that the phenomenon is out of control in some areas, although rarely is anyone arrested.