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A record-high number of Griffon Vultures observed overwintering in the Balkan Mountains in Bulgaria

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Griffon Vultures in the Balkan Mountains (c) FWFF

A little over ten years ago, the first Griffon Vulture releases took place in the Stara Planina situated in the Balkan Mountains to reintroduce the species in the region. Ever since then, the reintroduction efforts continued, and the species has now recovered in the area. Now, the latest census carried out by the Vultures Back to LIFE team observed a record-high number of Griffon Vultures overwintering in the Balkan Mountains, which pays testament to the incredible efforts to bring back the species to the region!

Census results

The Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna (FWFF) reported that a record-high number of Griffon Vultures were observed during the latest census of the species in the Balkan Mountains in Bulgaria. In the Eastern Balkan Mountains, the local teams counted 85 individuals, and in combination with Vrachanski Balkan, where 55 were counted, a total of 140 individuals were counted, which is the highest record since the beginning of the local reintroductions in 2010. Furthermore, in the Kresna Gorge, 48 individuals were observed, which is not the highest compared to previous years. Overall, all reintroduced colonies in Bulgaria amassed last year’s result of 188 Griffon Vultures.

Griffon Vulture reintroduction in Bulgaria 

Once common and widespread until the middle of the 20th century in Bulgaria, the Griffon Vulture faced a dramatic decline in the following years. The species was thought to be extinct in the country in the 1960s, but in 1978, conservationists discovered 28 birds and one breeding pair in the Rhodope Mountains. Significant conservation efforts by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds since 1989 led to the slow increase of this population that now numbers around 80 breeding pairs. Despite the increase in numbers, the species only nested in the valley of the Arda River in the Eastern Rhodopes and failed to settle in the north of the country. 

A vision to see these birds fly again in areas where they disappeared initiated an ambitious reintroduction project, with targeted releases of imported Griffon Vultures coming from the healthy and growing populations of the species in Spain and France. Local organizations were responsible for the reintroduction efforts of specific regions where the species used to nest. The Birds of Prey Protection Society (BPPS) was responsible for Vrachanski Balkan, Green Balkans for Eastern Stara Planina – “Sinite kamani” Nature Park, the Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna /FWFF/ for Kotel, and BPPS and Green Balkans worked together for Central Balkan. The administrations of the respective park directorates supported all activities – “Vrachanski Balkan” Nature Park, “Sinite kamani” Nature Park and “Central Balkan” National Park.

Since the start of the releases in 2010, a total of about 260 Griffon Vultures have been released, most of them provided by the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) in collaboration with several Spanish regional governments such as Andalusia, Extremadura, Castilla y la Mancha, Castilla y Leon, Basque Country, Balearic Islands, but also coming from France. A significant contribution of birds comes from the captive breeding programme for the Griffon Vultures ESB in collaboration with EAZA. 

Vultures Back to LIFE

Led by the wildlife conservation charity Green Balkans, with activities also implemented by the Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna, and bringing together partners from Bulgaria, Spain and Germany, Vultures Back to LIFE aims to reintroduce the cinereous or Eurasian black vulture to Bulgaria. The team will transfer and release around 60 birds, some from captive-breeding, but mostly coming from wildlife rehabilitation centers in Extremadura (Spain) into the wild in Bulgaria as well as creating supplementary feeding stations and improving populations of wild herbivores, improving the nesting conditions and creating artificial nest sites and tackling some of the major threats to vultures in the country such as insulating electricity pylons and illegal use of poison in the nature.

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