Shooting with a telescopic sight and silencer in the middle of the national park

Two men go down the Maeso de La Pedriza path, one of the best known in the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park (Madrid), where hunting is prohibited. They carry, barely hidden, four heads of male mountain goats, two in their backpacks and another two in their hands, in plastic bags and held by the horns. In one of the backpacks they also hide a single-shot rifle and a silencer. It is Monday, 20 September, the two alleged poachers of 36 and 29 years have traveled from Andalusia (they live in Seville and Baena) to go on safari in Madrid and, although they return from mountain at dusk with four valuable antlers, they still do not know that their day is going to go wrong: a hiker has sounded the alarm and two local policemen from Manzanares el Real are waiting for them posted behind some rocks. The two hunters appear on the road at 22. 30 and the agents detain them until the Civil Guard arrives, which accuses them of a crime against fauna (poaching) and another of damage.

Although it may be surprising, this type of poaching is not unusual in Spain . As recognized by a spokesperson for the Nature Protection Service (Seprona) of the Civil Guard, “it is increasingly common to find cases in which poachers use concealment techniques and technological material more typical of military units such as modified weapons, telescopic sights or silencers ”. What does happen less is that the offenders are as confident as the two people hunted in the middle of the national park with weapons and trophies (as the heads of animals are called in hunting slang).

As the Seprona warns, there is poaching for the hunting of certain trophies that even attracts “criminal organizations and groups” due to the great economic benefits that the trade in species or their parts in the black market brings. But it is a phenomenon that “does not respond to a single pattern of behavior.” In order to analyze the crime, it is necessary to take into account “the purpose being pursued, the level of preparation or professionalism and the existence of planning or not of the actions, among other parameters,” points out this nature protection service of the Civil Guard .

A sneak just for the field is not the same as dismantling a group of 10 people between 22 and 71 years, preparing illegal hunts in the heart of the Sierra Nevada National Park . In the operation, which took place in November last year, the Seprona discovered a sawed-off shotgun and two carbines of caliber 22 without documentation, together to numerous trophies of highly valuable game species: mountain goats, deer, wild boar, mouflon, fallow deer and a specimen of Iberian gangue, a species classified as vulnerable. They also mistreated the rehala of dogs they used; his condition was so lamentable that 5 of the 21 had to be sacrificed, victims of “animal cruelty.” To complete the circle, the investigations led the agents to a cannabis plantation with an illegal connection to the electricity grid.

Poaching has become a major problem affecting all kinds of fauna and can cause imbalances in species and ecosystems if it is massive, generates citizen insecurity and is one of the most difficult crimes to detect and eradicate. The normal thing is not to locate the criminals and at most to find, and not always, the bodies of decapitated animals, in the case of big game trophies. It is especially painful when it affects such emblematic and endangered species as the bear or the lynx. Last year, the Seprona arrested several people as alleged perpetrators for the death of two Iberian lynxes, one drowned with remains of poison and the other killed by shooting from a hunting shotgun. For the feline it is the second cause of death behind the abuses.

In the arrest of Sierra de Guadarrama, there was invaluable help from a mountaineer who saw the alleged poachers with the pieces and notified the Civil Guard at 20. 30. At that time, the two men were halfway between the peak of El Yelmo and the town of Manzanares el Real, where they had parked the SUV in a street of chalets attached to the protected environment from where the Maeso trail starts. “We thought it was going to be like finding a needle in a haystack, because La Pedriza is a labyrinth full of paths, cliffs and nooks, but they decided to go down that path that is very busy,” one of the police officers is still surprised Local that captured them. “It’s incredible, because they would have had to go with their heads between the chalets, until they reached the car and there live people who at that time take the dog out,” he adds.

Víctor Nava, officer Chief of the Local Police of the town, assures that “there are times when shots are heard, because the ground forms like a bowl and rumbles, but it is not something usual”. In any case, they do not have sufficient means to tackle the problem. The mayor, José Luis Labrador, is concerned about the danger posed by poaching and also about the lack of personnel to monitor the environment. “There are always people here, especially on weekends,” he explains.

The director of the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park, Pablo Sanjuanbenito, does not believe that poaching in this area protected is widespread, something that the Seprona corroborates. But if “it is a great concern.” The park has an overpopulation problem of ibex with 6. 000 specimens found in the area of ​​Cuerda Larga and La Pedriza, which could lead poachers to think they are doing the environment a favor. Nothing is further from reality. “It does not help at all to the management of natural resources and harms the goat population because they pursue the best males, with better genetics and that impoverishes the species, because it does not eliminate the sick or the one with a malformation”, Sanjuanbenito points out. A new management plan for the species is currently being processed after the previous one was paralyzed due to a complaint from the animal rights party PACMA.

Proof of the crime

In the national park they have been detecting signs of criminal activity for some time. In 2019 four headless bodies were found, without the trophy, which led them to establish an action protocol with Seprona. But to determine if there has been poaching or not they need to find the remains and that they are in good condition and that does not happen often. In 48 animals such as ghouls, foxes, crows and others can eat the carrion and “you find a skin and bones from which it is almost impossible to deduce anything.” A shepherd, who takes care of his flock in the area where the two poachers were arrested and who prefers to remain anonymous, assures that in his comings and goings through La Pedriza he has found a decapitated body of goat.

The Royal Spanish Hunting Federation (RFEC) manifests itself “radically against this criminal practice that has nothing to do with hunting.” “Poaching had already been on the rise since before the pandemic, and with the confinement and the empty field it grew more, for example in the Gredos area,” says Juan Herrera, technical director of the RFEC. To kill a representative mountain goat trophy in Gredos can cost 1. 500 euros and one of the most important, gold, can reach 6. 000 euros, calculate. “The specimens killed by poachers are resources lost by the owners of the farms, which in many cases are municipalities,” he specifies.

This type of crime is punishable by a prison sentence of six years to two years or a fine of eight to 24 months (per day depending on their resources) and disqualification from exercising the right to hunt or fish for time from two to four years. Penalties that are increased if the species is protected. “What usually occurs is an agreement with the Prosecutor’s Office in which the penalty is specified that ends in a fine and a disqualification for the corresponding period,” says Juan Manuel Rubio, lawyer for Ecologistas en Acción. “The important thing for us is that they stop hunting,” he specifies.

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