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Griffon vulture released in Bulgaria shows up in France

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For the first time ever, a griffon vulture released in Bulgaria, as part of the restocking project there, has flow all the way to France, showing up in a feeding station in Baronnies last week (see photo).

Before, griffons released in Bulgaria had showed up as far north as Poland, and in northern Italy, but this is the first time a bird went beyond the Alps, confirming earlier studies that the griffon vulture in Europe does form one large pan-european population.

The bird in question is an adult female, wing tagged with the code K5H. This bird was shipped from Spain to Bulgaria in July 2012 and moved to the adaptation aviary above Sliven in August 2012. Two days after its arrival, on August 8th 2012, the bird escaped, together with several other experienced adults which had just arrived.

She was reported over the Atanasovsko Lake (Black Sea Coast) on August 28th 2012, then visited the only griffon natural colony in Eastern Rhodopi (Studen kladenets Reservoir) on September 8-9th 2012.  On September 17th, 2012 she was seen at Vrachanki Balkan, one of the four release sites in the Balkan Mountains included in the project.

In October-November 2012, K5H returned to her original release site above Sliven and joined the group of some 20-25 vultures constantly present in the area. In January-February 2013 she was seen again in Vrachanski Balkan and then kept going back and forth to Sliven-Kotel until May 15th 2013.

In May 2013 she was seen in Dadia, northeast  Greece, then in 4 sites across Bulgaria, but returned to Dadia by the end of the month (28.05), where she stayed until at least 1st July. She now resurfaced in southern France.

Interestingly, the Bulgarian griffon was seen together with a Croatian-born griffon, with a colour ring coded CGU. The latter was ringed in the nest on the island of Cres on 9 May 2010, but moved west, and was already in France in July 2011. He has been seen since in a variety of places in southern France  (Cassagnes, Chamaloc, now in Baronnies).

It is well known that Croatian griffons move south across the Balkans, and that thousands of Spanish griffons move east to summer in the Alps, but movements from the Balkans to the west, or vice versa, are less common. This is the first time a Griffon has moved all the way from Bulgaria, across the Balkans and the Alps, to southern France.

Green Balkans is leading a LIFE+ project (LIFE08 NAT/BG/278), in partnership with FWFF and BPPS, aiming to restore vulture populations in Bulgaria, severely depleted because of direct persecution and poison. These threats seem to be under control, so one of the actions of the project is to reintroduce the griffon at four sites along the Balkan mountains (Stara Planina).  The species is presently confined to a few breeding colonies in the eastern Rodophes, on the border with Greece (67 breeding pairs this year).

Until now, 160 griffons have been released in Bulgaria under this project, and 80% of those came from Spain – the rest originated in France and in Zoos (through captive breeding, EEP). All of them have been marked, and they are closely monitored. A number of feeding stations have also been set up. Mortality rate so far is low (17+%), mostly because of electrocution, and the first breeding attempts in the wild have started two years ago – even though most of the birds released are too young to breed.

All these project activities are part of the long-term Balkan Vulture Action Plan (BVAP), initiated in 2002, and led by the VCF. The BVAP includes 8 countries and more than 30 local NGOs, working together vulture conservation.

The VCF strives to restore vulture populations and range across Europe, and is thus giving a contribution to this valuable project. It is hoped it will result in the reestablishment of the griffon across Bulgaria.

Photo: Association Vautours en Baronnies

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