There are at least three issues that make reducing illegal raptor killing tricky compared with many other crimes.First, rather obviously, the victim and its family can’t speak out. There are no moving images of a tearful buzzard parent talking of their lost loved ones. No distraught friends and relatives agonising over a missing hen harrier who hasn’t been seen for ages and went missing in mysterious circumstances. No parent talking about the horrific death of their young eagle child in a steel trap. Murdered wildlife needs others to speak out on its behalf.
Second, the horror of the manner of death is difficult to get across – but maybe we should do more to do this. Imagine the agony of dying in a trap – but would that be preferable to a death by poison? A few minutes footage of a golden eagle dying of poisoning by carbofuran on YouTube would go a long way to change public opinion. I remember the image of a kestrel in a pole trap from years ago so it must have made quite an impression on me. Maybe we should be doing more to explain the consequences of this criminality for individual birds as well as the population impact on their species.
Third, in most forms of criminality there is directly or indirectly a human victim. We don’t like the idea of murderers going free in society because we don’t want to be murdered ourselves and we don’t want to fear for our children or friends either. The same applies to theft and evading tax payment – if this sort of thing goes on then we all lose to some extent. That’s one reason why the police get information from the public about criminals. There is little information about wildlife crime coming from rural and shooting ‘communities’ and I wonder whether that is partly because many people benefit from this crime even if they are not responsible for it. The grouse moor owner who does not kill hen harriers benefits from those who do – there are fewer hen harriers around. His dirty work is being done by someone else – someone else takes the risk but he gains some benefit. That must be one reason why the shooting community does not ‘shop’ its criminals. So the next time someone says to you that it’s only a small minority of gamekeepers who break the law the correct response is ‘Maybe, I’m not completely convinced, but you all benefit from those criminal elements and that’s why you do nothing to root them out isn’t it?’.