Poachers kill off Pindos chamois

IOANNINA (AFP) – There are only a couple of hundred of them left, but the odds are high that the last of the fleet-footed Balkan chamois will end up as trophies on a wall. Their enemies are not natural predators, such as the lynx, thought to be extinct locally, but poachers with Kalashnikovs. Although a protected species, the antelope-like creature that lives high in the Pindos Mountains in Epirus is a favorite quarry for hunters. «No one has been convicted of killing a chamois since 1969, when hunting them became strictly forbidden,» says Haritakis Papaioannou of the World Wide Fund for Nature. He urged the government to create a national park and crack down on poachers, who have flourished – while chamois populations have shrunk – since tracks were made that allow vehicles to reach mountain summits. Steel barriers erected across the paths by ecologists are regularly destroyed. Powerful hunters’ groups have strongly protested the barriers, claiming they have their own patrols to deal with poaching. But the poachers are well organized, using not only the high-powered Kalashnikov rifles – mostly smuggled in from Albania – but also walkie-talkies that enable them to round up their prey. Last year, Papaioannou himself stumbled upon two hunters skinning a chamois they had shot on Mt Tymphi. He filmed the scene and gave the video to the authorities, but to no effect. The progressive disappearance of the chamois and other species is upsetting the ecological balance and threatening other species, such as the golden eagle and the bearded vulture. Papaioannou said that of about 130 chamois on the Tymphi massif, at least 15 have been killed this year – three by wolves and golden eagles, but the rest by man. Locals say chamois meat is offered to innkeepers for 50 euros a kilo.