Česká verze

No more unsolved cases. Poaching of large carnivores will be a matter for specially trained police investigators

22.3.2022, Selmy.cz

So far, there has been very little success in addressing the illegal hunting of wolves and lynx in the Czech Republic. Often, it is not the investigators who are to blame but the lack of resources, equipment and experience with this type of crime. That is why the large carnivore experts of Hnutí DUHA (Friends of the Earth Czech Republic) propose the formation of a special unit within the Czech police force that will systematically deal with wildlife crime, including illegal hunting of large carnivores. It should be a team of experienced criminologists cooperating with other experts. A special unit with a nationwide scope of operation would not only help to prevent the poaching of large carnivores but would also relieve overburdened local police officers.

The competence of investigators and their experience are important for the successful handling of poaching cases.

The prevailing problems that complicate the investigation of large carnivore poaching are illustrated by the previously unpublished case from 2020. While monitoring lynx in the Pošumaví (Bohemian Forest foothills), volunteers of the Hnutí DUHA Lynx Patrols came across a probable killing site of a lynx.

“Our volunteers tracked the lynx to a place under a hunting lookout tower, where the tracks abruptly ended. In the snow, they found a clearly recognizable silhouette of a dead animal corresponding to the shape of a lynx body and the traces of blood and fur. Car tyre marks were leading away from the site, and human footprints were also visible in the snow. The body of the dead animal was not found by our volunteers. Nevertheless, the situation appeared quite clear and everything pointed to the fact that the lynx had been killed at the site,” describes Michal Feller, the main coordinator of the large carnivore programme at Hnutí DUHA (Friends of the Earth Czech Republic).

Rysí stopy vedoucí k místu pravděpodobného zabití rysa v roce 2020 a nálezová situace před posedem; zdroj Hnutí DUHA Šelmy

Lynx tracks (left and centre) that led the Lynx Patrol to the site of a probable lynx killing (right); source: Hnutí DUHA Šelmy (Friends of the Earth Czech Republic – Large Carnivore Conservation Programme)


“Unfortunately, the only investigators who arrived at the scene after calling the police line were two officers from the district police department with no experience in how to handle similar cases. They walked over the area in front of the lookout several times, damaging the tracks. All the evidence they secured at the scene was a few photos taken with a mobile phone. The volunteers together with the Lynx Patrol coordinator subsequently lodged a complaint to investigate the case with the local police station. However, the police officers tried to discourage them, saying that in their opinion there was no evidence of poaching,” Feller describes the cooperation with the district police.

Silueta rysa před posedem a stopy auta a lidí vedoucí k ní; zdroj: Hnutí DUHA Šelmy

Description of the finding – a silhouette corresponding to the outline of a lynx body, car tyre tracks and footprints of a person who got out of the car and headed towards the body of the animal; source: Hnutí DUHA Šelmy (Friends of the Earth Czech Republic – Large Carnivore Conservation Programme)

Detail rysí siluety ve sněhu z roku 2020; zdroj: Hnutí DUHA Šelmy

The silhouette of a body lying in the snow corresponds to that of a lynx; source: Hnutí DUHA Šelmy (Friends of the Earth Czech Republic – Large Carnivore Conservation Programme)

“That illegal hunting is not investigated from the start by specially trained officers represents a systemic problem,” Feller further emphasizes.

It was only in the following weeks that the economic crime police took over the case. The police received the results of genetic analyses of blood and hair samples collected on the site by experienced Hnutí DUHA field workers. Although the sample was handled correctly, it would probably not have stood up in an investigation as it was not taken and recorded by a police officer. The results subsequently confirmed that it was a lynx, specifically a male from the local Czech-Bavarian-Austrian population. However, the police were unable to secure further evidence at the site and dismissed the case, surprisingly, on the grounds that no crime had been committed.

Rysí krev a chlupy nalezené na místě pravděpodobného zabití rysa ostrovida v roce 2020; zdroj: Hnutí DUHA Šelmy

Samples of hair and blood taken on the site and confirmed by genetic analysis to belong to a male lynx from the Czech-Bavarian-Austrian population; source: Hnutí DUHA Šelmy (Friends of the Earth Czech Republic – Large Carnivore Conservation Programme).

The situation shows fundamental shortcomings that prevent the successful investigation of illegal hunting. Usually, the district police officers are called to the scene rather than the technicians and investigators of the criminal police. “It is not the fault of the local officers that they do not know how to handle such cases. It is a systemic problem that these types of cases are not immediately taken over by specially trained criminologists,” says Feller. The police themselves are also calling for a change.

Every regional police department already has dedicated staff working on “environmental crime” cases. However, these are police officers from the Economic Crime Department, who are mainly responsible for investigating offences related to taxes and fees, accounting, counterfeiting of currency, bills, cheques and credit cards, corruption, legalization of proceeds of crime or money laundering, etc. [1] It is a wide and varied range of cases, and it cannot be expected that the officers will have the time and capacity to educate themselves in the completely different area of environmental crime.

A similar police environmental crime unit already exists in Slovakia

A specialised unit for dealing with environmental crime has already been established within the Slovak police force. The main unit at the Slovak Police Headquarters consists of 19 staff and it cooperates with the regional environmental units. In addition to the poaching of protected species, the unit’s scope includes investigating environmental damage, timber thefts, discharge of pollutants, etc.

It consists of a team of specially trained investigators provided with the necessary equipment, such as off-road vehicles or quad bikes for difficult terrain, recording equipment, cameras, night vision, etc., procured as part of the EU projects. As a result, the clearance rate for cases of poaching (including all animals, not just specially protected species) is also higher in Slovakia according to statistics. In 2019–2020, 55% of cases were successfully investigated, while in the Czech Republic it was only about 16% of all cases during the same period [2].

So far, not a single case of wolf or lynx poaching has been clarified in the Czech Republic. Now it may be about to happen

For the first time ever, a case of illegal lynx hunting is close to being not only solved but also the perpetrators brought to the court. In uncovering a series of crimes as part of the investigation with the code name “The Hunter”, customs officers uncovered a vast network of poachers, hunters and wildlife traffickers. The investigations have so far led to charges against 12 persons.

However, the known cases of large carnivore poaching are just the tip of the iceberg. According to the results of research following up on field monitoring, up to 30% of adult lynx disappear each year in the Czech-Austrian-Bavarian population, and up to 38% of adult lynx in the Western Carpathians [3].

Only exemplary cooperation can lead to success

Experienced criminologists and investigators with sufficient capacity and interest in the issue should be part of the proposed special unit with a nationwide scope to deal with the cases of large carnivore poaching. At the same time, cooperation with other bodies such as the Customs Administration, the Nature Conservation Agency of the Czech Republic, the Czech Environmental Inspectorate, experts from universities and academic institutions or environmental NGOs that have been involved in large carnivore research and monitoring for a long time is also important.

“In the twenty-two years of our activities we have witnessed more than once truly absurd situations in the investigation of lynx and wolf poaching and unfortunately, have on occasions experienced frustration with the approach and work of some of the state institutions involved. For example, during the investigation of lynx poaching in the Beskydy Mountains, the evidence (a bullet) was “lost” at the State Veterinary Institute [4]. In the case of the illegal killing of the lynx Olda that occurred in Javorníky in 2020, the important information was leaked and we were hearing about some of the details of the investigation from local hunters [5],” remarks Feller on some of the unsolved cases. “However, the recent work of Customs Administration and the experts involved in investigating the shooting of the female lynx Michelle as part of the “The Hunter” criminal investigation proves that it is possible, even in such cases, to identify the perpetrators,” adds Feller.

Poslední fotka postřeleného rysa Oldy, který zemřel krátce po odchytu a převozu do záchranné stanice; autor: Michal Bojda

One of the last photographs of the lynx Olda who was found in a very poor state in the Beskydy Mountains in 2020. Unfortunately, it was too late to save the lynx and it died of a gunshot wound a few hours after capture; author: Michal Bojda


A quick veterinary intervention must be available for animals that can still be saved

In the spring of last year, representatives of the large carnivore conservation programme at Hnutí DUHA submitted a document to the Ministry of the Environment summarizing their experience with investigating poaching cases. It included the main reasons that often hinder not only the investigation but also complicate the rapid veterinary intervention when an injured animal (particularly an individual of a specially protected species) is found. In addition to the establishment of a special forensic unit, the Hnutí DUHA experts also propose the creation of a contact list of veterinarians in each region who can provide immediate care to injured protected animals.

What can you do if you suspect poaching?

If you believe that someone has killed a protected large carnivore in your area, please contact the state nature conservation officers or directly us with your suspicions. Detailed instructions on what to do if you find a dead wolf, lynx, bear or wildcat are available here:

Infonávod_Jak se chovat přInfonávod_Jak se chovat při nálezu upytlačené chráněné šelmy?i nálezu upytlačeného živočicha?


[1] The range of cases dealt with by the Economic Crime Department is listed on the official website policie.cz.

[2] The clarification data is based on an article on the NasVidiek.sk website and the bachelor's thesis of Jarmila Konecká from the Faculty of Law of Masaryk University in Brno: Konecká J. (2021): Trestný čin pytláctví. Bakalářská práce. Masarykova univerzita. https://is.muni.cz/th/q80q0

[3] References: Wölfl S., Mináriková T., Belotti E., Engleder T., Schwaiger M., Gahbauer M., Volfová J., Bufka L., Gerngross P., Weingarth K., Bednářová H., Strnad M., Heurich M., Poledník L. & Zápotočný Š. (2020): Lynx Monitoring Report for the Bohemian-Bavarian-Austrian Lynx Population in 2018/2019. Report prepared within the 3Lynx project, 27 pp. Funded by Interreg CENTRAL EUROPE programme.

Duľa, M., Bojda, M., Chabanne, D.B.H., Drengubiak, P., Hrdý, Ľ., Krojerová-Prokešová, J., Kubala, J., Labuda, J., Marčáková, L., Oliveira, T., Smolko, P., Váňa, M. & Kutal, M. (2021): Multi-seasonal systematic camera-trapping reveals fluctuating densities and high turnover rates of Carpathian lynx on the western edge of its native range. Scientific Reports 11: 9236. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-88348-8

[4] Bartošová D., 2003: Nález uhynulého rysa ostrovida v CHKO Beskydy. Ochrana přírody 58 (3): 91–92 https://www.selmy.cz/clanky/nalez-uhynuleho-rysa-ostrovida-v-chko-beskydy/

[5] The poaching of the lynx Olda was reported here: https://www.selmy.cz/tiskove-zpravy/zastreleny-rys-v-chko-beskydy-aopk-cr-a-hnuti-duha-podavaji-trestni-oznameni/

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created by Michal Kandr