PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP via Getty Images
- Truffle foragers in Italy have long sought to get rid of competition in search of “black gold.”
- Ruthless hunters have resorted to dropping poison-laced treats to tempt truffle-sniffing dogs.
- Police and locals are trying to crack down on the deadly poisonings, according to reports.
While truffle-sniffing dogs in the rolling hills of Italy sniff out earthy treasures worth over $4,000 per kilogram, their owners are on the lookout for something deadly lurking in the brush: poisoned treats, laced with snail bait and strychnine, intended for their specially-trained pooches.
Laced hot dog pieces and bits of meatball are tossed into the wooded hills by competitive foragers aiming to injure or kill the trained dogs and prevent their handlers from being able to find more truffles, according to reports by The New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
Rare Italian truffles are in short supply due to climate change and the challenges of foraging. The most sought-after varieties can cost upwards of $5,000 a pound and a trained truffle-sniffing dog with a high earnings potential can cost owners upwards of $8,500.
“It’s all about getting rid of the competition,” The Wall Street Journal reported Saverio Dogliani, a 57-year-old truffle hunter whose dog, Floki, has been poisoned twice, said.
French truffle hunter Anne-Marie Pouzergues (C) digs the ground after her dog found some truffles, in the Dordogne countryside near Brantome, southwestern France on January 10, 2023.
PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP via Getty Images
The poisoned treats claim the lives of multiple dogs and wildlife such as deer and foxes, each year. The Wall Street Journal reported one vet in the town of Alba treats between eight and 10 poisoned truffle dogs per year, though the actual number of cases is likely much higher and sometimes impacts family dogs — not just those in search of the truffles.
Martina Ercoli’s chocolate lab, Brando, was killed earlier this month after she said he took a “poisoned bite” from the ground. The dog died in Ercoli’s brother’s arms within half an hour. She posted on Facebook that the Italian police told her he was the third dog that week to be poisoned by “these criminals, presumably people who hunt truffles and spread poisonous morsels to kill each others’ dogs in war.”
A group of truffle hunters wearing camouflage searched the area where Brando was poisoned, hoping to rid the brush of leftover poison. Among them was Antonio Morasca, who told The New York Times about the death of his own dog, Thor, who this month also ate a bit of poisoned hot dog that had rolled under his car.
“I took it out of his mouth, but he ran off — he loved to run off — and got another one in his mouth,” Morasca told The New York Times. “He started trembling. We got him back to the town, and he started foaming. We made him eat salt to vomit, but the whites of his eyes had turned red. His legs stretched out, and he became rigid. He was dead before we got to the clinic. A half an hour.”
Truffle hunter Jean-Luc Monteillet shows a black truffle found by one of his dogs during a search through the oaks of the Domaine of Montine in Grignan, southern France on December 23, 2022.
OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE/AFP via Getty Images)
Italy’s national police have dispatched poison-detecting dogs to the woods of Alba in hopes of eliminating the source of the poisonings, which regularly claim the lives of truffle dogs in the region, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“It’s getting worse,” Agent Emanuele Gallo told The Wall Street Journal. “There is more competition, and unfortunately illicit means are being used more.”
Locals, fed up with the risks to their loved ones, have taken the hunt for the poisoners into their own hands. Belardo Bravi, a truffle hunter whose dog Bella was nearly killed by poison over a decade ago, installed cameras on his truck and joined the informal group of truffle foragers hunting for those responsible.
“When I catch him and see him in the piazza,” Belardo Bravi told The New York Times. “I’ll break his little hands.”