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DEAD OR DYING: Nearly 100 vultures fall victim to suspected mass poisoning in Castilla y León (Spain)

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A veterinarian tends to one of the affected vultures © JCYL

An area in Castilla y León, Spain, became a death trap for vultures over the past couple of days. Since yesterday, when locals came across the gruesome scene, nearly 100 vultures were discovered either dead or dying in the field. Based on the circumstances, a mass poisoning incident is the likely cause behind this tragic event, but investigations are ongoing. 

Several vultures killed by suspected mass poisoning

A person passing through Monterrubio de Armuña (Salamanca) yesterday on Wednesday morning spotted dozens of dead and dying vultures. But the reality was way worse. When the competent authorities arrived on the scene, the environmental agents and the Guardia Civil (Seprona) found 56 dead birds (54 Griffon Vultures, one Cinereous Vulture and one Black Kite) and 41 alive (38 Griffon Vultures and 3 Cinereous Vultures) with a bleak prognosis. 

The affected scavenging birds consumed the remains of four sheep that had died next to a cornfield. The agents are considering all the possibilities, including the likelihood that the episode may have been intentional, targeting predators or even vultures. They are also investigating whether the origin of the poisoning comes from some type of agricultural treatment that may have poisoned the sheep, which then affected the vulture feeding on their carcasses, possibly causing secondary poisoning. Today the Guardia Civil anti-poisoning dog unit from Madrid has joined the search to detect poisons. This morning, blood and tissue samples from the carrion and the dead animals were sent to the Toxicology and Forensic Veterinary Service of the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Murcia to help determine the toxic substances used.

Emergency actions try to save poisoned vultures

The animals that were still alive were taken to recovery centres in Salamanca and Valladolid to receive urgent treatment in hope of making a recovery. Environmental agents and technicians of the Junta de Castilla y León also performed emergency treatment and administered drugs to the necrophagous birds affected on-site, since minutes can make a difference in such cases. Late last night the veterinary teams from Las Dunas and CRAS de Valladolid continued working with the specimens that were still alive and the first examinations of the dead specimens began. Unfortunately, another 20 birds escaped before being captured for treatment. Spain is home to 90% of the European population of this protected species, with around 35,000 Griffon Vultures and 2,500 Cinereous Vultures pairs.

UPDATE: 29 June 2021

The Toxicology and Forensic Veterinary Service of the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Murcia received the results of the analysis of the samples from 3 Griffon Vultures, a Cinereous Vulture, a Black kite and two sheep. They confirmed the presence of carbofuran in all the samples submitted, one of the most toxic carbamate pesticides banned for use in the European Union since December 2007. 

However, the veterinary teams of the Junta de Castilla y León will continue to carry out necropsies of the carcasses to obtain more data on the digestive contents and livers, and the laboratory will continue to carry out analyses of the rest of the toxic products, according to protocol, including NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) in order to rule out their presence.

According to the action protocol included in the Action Plan for the eradication of the illegal use of poisoned bait in the natural environment in Castilla y León, this episode was reported to and coordinated at all times with the SEPRONA of the Guardia Civil, which will continue the investigations, and was immediately transferred to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Poisoning poses a significant threat to vultures and nature

Based on the findings of a report, in Spain alone, between 1992 and 2017, 21,260 animals died due to poison baits from a total of 9,700 crimes against wildlife. This figure is just the tip of the iceberg, because in reality there may be more than 200,000 animals affected since only a fraction of the total number of cases are ever detected. The Griffon Vulture is the most poisoned bird of prey in Spain, with 1,757 individuals falling victim to this damaging practice, corresponding to 23.4% of all raptor species affected. Furthermore, a total of 624 Cinereous Vultures, 325 Egyptian Vultures and 48 Bearded Vultures were poisoned between the period analysed in the report. 

Poison – usually put out to kill carnivores, not vultures, who are collateral victims of this illegal practice, is the main threat to vultures worldwide, according to the Vulture Multi-species Action Plan (Vulture MsAP) – a global strategic blueprint identifying priorities and actions to conserve 15 species of old world vultures, endorsed by the Convention for Migratory Species and co-developed by the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF). The VCF is particularly active in fighting this threat and is implementing several projects across Europe, such as BalkanDetox LIFE, to tackle illegal wildlife poisoning head-on.

At the VCF, we have been in close contact with local colleagues offering help to deal with this mass vulture mortality. We will keep track of the developments and share updates — you can stay tuned by following us on Facebook and Twitter

Source:  Junta de Castilla y León

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