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One griffon possibly down in Saudi Arabia – while another is held hostage in Iraq

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It is not such a rare occurrence that a vulture is shot at or otherwise persecuted and threatened during migration – this has been indeed identified as one of the threats facing vultures in the Middle East in the recently approved Vulture Multi-.species Action Plan, a global plan to conserve 15 species of old world vultures, which was enthusiastically endorsed by all parties of the Convention for Migratory Species (CMS). We had another reminder recently, when one of the griffons tagged in Bulgaria as part of the LIFE Rewilding Vultures (in which the VCF participates) – a young bird named Boril, which was wintering in Saudi Arabia and had started moving north, was probably caught or killed – the transmitter is now transmitting from the town of Rafha (see map above).

It is not the first griffon to be killed in the Middle East – however, it is not so often that a bird is captured and held for ransom. Just recently we’ve learned from our colleagues in Serbia that a young griffon vulture that they had ringed, tagged, and ironically named Saddam, was captured in southern Iraq and is being held for ransom by its captor.

The young vulture originates from the largest breeding colony of the species in the Balkans, in the nature reserve Uvac, which is situated in Southwestern Serbia. The bird was tagged last year as a part of a monitoring program that our colleagues from the Fund for protection of bird of prey are conducting with this population. This is the second Griffon vulture from this colony that was documented while visiting Iraq.

The captor found the phone number of our colleagues on the back of the wing tag and contacted them. He originally intended to sell the bird to a local falconer but thought first to offer the bird back to its original “owners” to see if he could get a better price. Based on the photos sent by the captor (see above), the bird seems to be doing all right and appears to have suffered no injuries. Negotiations are well under way to recover the bird and hopefully everything will go well, and Saddam will be freed. For more information about this rather bizarre case visit http://vulture.org.rs.

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