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Fifteen Cinereous Vultures travel from Extremadura to Bulgaria to be reintroduced

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One of the Cinereous Vultures (c) Jovan Andevski/VCF

We are one step closer to establishing a viable population of Cinereous Vultures in the Balkans with the latest transportation of 15 birds to Bulgaria. Junta ExtremaduraAMUS (Acción por el Mundo Salvaje)  and the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) coordinated the efforts to transfer these birds from Extremadura to Bulgaria as part of the Vultures Back to LIFE project, which aims to reintroduce the species in the country. 

Getting ready for the transport of 15 Cinereous Vultures

The 15 Cinereous Vultures hatched in the wild in Extremadura, Spain, and have entered the Los Hornos (Junta de Extremadura) recovery centre as they were suffering from malnutrition and health issues. Thanks to their diligent work and commitment, the birds were nursed back to health and are fit to return to the wild. As a partner, Junta de Extremadura has donated the birds to the Vultures Back to LIFE to release these birds to Bulgaria where the species went extinct. After the vultures recovered and were assigned to the Project, they were transferred to AMUS wildlife hospital based in Extremadura — the VCF partner in all Griffon Vulture and Cinereous Vulture reintroduction projects. AMUS have specialized installations authorized by the sanitary service for keeping the vultures during the necessary quarantine period. Prior to their transfer, all the birds were tested for heavy metals, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medicines, avian flu, Newcastle and gender determination.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, unfortunately, these birds had to spend three more months in captivity. VCF was doing everything possible to transport the birds to Bulgaria, but it was not possible until now.

Extremadura is the most important Spanish region for the species, very likely to be the most significant region for this species at a global scale. Counting more than 900 breeding pairs, distributed among the two largest colonies in the National Park of Monfragüe and Sierra de San Pedro (each colony counting over 300 breeding pairs), which are monitored within the Vultures Back To Life project by the Junta de Extremadura, they are an ideal donor population for reintroduction projects.

Transportation of the Cinereous Vultures

On 24 June, the 15 Cinereous Vultures left AMUS, which was their home for the past couple of months, and began their journey to Bulgaria. The birds will travel around 4000 km by land, passing through France, Italy, Slovenia, Hungary and Romania, before arriving in Bulgaria. They are expected to arrive in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, this Friday 26 June. The VCF secured the birds and organized the transfer with a professional animal transportation company specialized in meeting the needs of animals. Once the vultures arrive, the Green Balkan veterinary team will examine them and then distribute them to the release aviaries. There, they will spend an adaptation period to help them acclimatize and get used to the conditions in the Balkan Mountains.

The transport of these vultures to Bulgaria marks a historic moment for the entire Balkan region, where this species became extinct, except for a small isolated population still surviving in Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park, Greece, with 30 to 35 pairs remaining. 

This is the third transport of Cinereous Vultures from Extremadura to Bulgaria. The first one took place in 2018 with 12 birds, and the second one in 2019 with ten birds. So, with the latest transportation, a total of 37 Spanish Cinereous Vultures are now secured for Vultures Back to LIFE reintroduction project! On top of this, seven more captive-bred birds were provided by the Cinereous Vulture EEP/EAZA, coming from different European zoos. 

Cinereous Vultures in Bulgaria

The Cinereous Vulture was found everywhere in Bulgaria during the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. But due to habitat loss, the widespread use of poisons to combat terrestrial predators, agricultural intensification, lack of food resources, and deliberate shooting of individuals, the species was driven to extinction. The last proven breeding pair nest was recorded in 1993 in the Cold Well area, during an expedition by Green Balkans experts. The only natural colony of the Balkans species is located in the Dadia National Park, Greece, where often single birds were observed visiting vulture feeding sites in the Eastern Rhodopes, reaching both the Balkan Mountains and the Kresna Gorge. In 2015, the Vultures Back To LIFE project was launched to bring the species back to the country.

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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