Wall of silence surrounds crime of poaching rare goats

One of the 500 wild goats still living in the mountains of Greece recently fell victim to a hunter’s rifle. What would have been the perfect crime at over 2,000 meters was caught on film, perhaps the only poaching incident ever recorded. A year later, however, and although the two hunters are clearly visible on the footage, they have not been charged. As the day drew to a close on October 17, 2002, four researchers from WWF Hellas who had reached the Megala Litharia peak in the Vikos-Aoos national park decided to take a final look around for traces of wild goats, whose populations they were in the process of recording. They are an endangered species, so hunting them is strictly forbidden. As the researchers looked round through their binoculars, they caught sight of two hunters skinning a wild goat just a few meters outside the perimeter of the national park, which the researchers managed to record in graphic detail. They called the Ioannina Forestry Service by mobile phone, as well as the headquarters of the Epirus Hunting Federation’s game authority. Two seasonal forestry workers and a team from the hunting federation were unable to find the culprits, however, before night fell. The next day the WWF team went to the site and collected parts of the carcass, some food containers and a water bottle the hunters had left behind. On October 29 and 30, the WWF representatives went to the Ioannina public prosecutor’s office and called for charges to be pressed against persons unknown, but despite the evidence, this was not done. They then submitted the videotape to the forestry service and the board of the Fifth Epirote Hunting Federation, warning that if the authorities were not able to find the two poachers, they would send the tape to the media. Unfortunately, neither of these official bodies produced the names of the two poachers and so the tape went to the local press, causing an uproar. Many regional groups issued rulings condemning the poachers, as did the Hunting Federation of Greece and the Epirus Hunting Federation. Not so the local hunting associations, some of which alleged slander by environmental groups and even trick photography. A year later, nearly everyone involved knows the identity of the two men, both locals, yet no one is willing to identify them. So the charges (against persons unknown) are still pending. Costas Ziambiris, president of the Epirus Hunting Federation, told Kathimerini he had no knowledge of the issue, as he was only recently elected, and that it was a matter for the police. Manthos Pappas, the game warden of Ioannina Forestry Service, said the video was not enough on its own to incriminate the culprits. «Unfortunately, the other evidence has not been produced, such as fingerprints. Who is prepared to accuse two people based on a low-definition image?» he asked. He did not deny that there were two main suspects, who had even been questioned (one of the two had contradicted himself on several occasions) – but he said the evidence was insufficient for charges to be pressed against them. The case raises several issues that show just how out of touch the state services and hunting organizations are regarding the fight against poaching. In all of Epirus, with its rich reserves of game, its mountains and national parks are patrolled by just 22 game wardens. The prefecture of Ioannina has just five. Meanwhile, the game wardens are paid by the hunting organizations, raising questions about their allegiances. «It is a shame for species to be lost,» said Ziambiris, although one wonders how this can be avoided given existing policies. «Hardly anyone has been convicted of poaching,» said Pappas. «Society protects them and the State is only interested in getting money from hunting permits. That’s not the way.»