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Griffon Vulture Sunchica that needed rescuing twice embarked on an impressive return trip

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After Sunchica’s second rescue, rehabilitation and release, the Griffon Vulture travelled far and wide. Sunchica left the Balkans and reached the Middle East where she spent the winter months. Now, after five months, the vulture is back home! We have been closely following her movements and behaviour thanks to the GPS tag on her back that also helps reinforce our anti-poisoning efforts. 

Sunchica becomes part of anti-poisoning efforts

At the beginning of October 2019, a peculiar sight struck the residents of the small city of Berovo, in the Republic of North Macedonia, when a juvenile Griffon Vulture wandered into their neighbourhood seemingly healthy but unable to fly away. The event mobilized the animal welfare activists Pro-Anima Berovo as well as the Macedonian Ecological Society (MES) who immediately took action to catch the bird and save it from neighbourhood dogs. They then transferred Sunchica to the city centre to enter Skopje Zoo, where they realised the vulture was hungry and exhausted, so she was looked after and rehabilitated. By the end of October, the vulture was fit again and was released by MES in Vitachevo. From there, she began flying east. 

That’s when the Fund for Wild Fauna and Flora (FWFF) tagged Sunchica as well as several other Griffon Vultures with GPS tags within the Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project Small Grants Programme led by the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) and funded by the MAVA Foundation, with hopes to track poisoning incidents in the Balkans, which continues to cause adverse impacts on vulture populations. Unfortunately, by mid-November, conservationists detected that she was in trouble and captured her near Lake Vistonida in Greece. Once again, she was found in an exhausted state due to her inability to find food. After being transported to a veterinary centre in Thessaloniki, she made a recovery and was released again at Dadia in December 2019! 

Sunchica’s carries out fascinating travels

Ever since her second release, it has been exciting to monitor the impressive travels the vulture embarked upon. Up until October 2020, the Griffon Vulture had been circling the Eastern Rhodopes and Central Balkan. Sunchica then began to fly east towards the Black Sea and following the coast. Crossing Turkey and Iraq, she reached Iran by late November. Now, after 5 months, Sunchica has returned to the Balkans and can be seen flying through the skies of western Bulgaria!

Since October 2020, Sunchica has flown 18,732 km! Her starting position and the area where she spent most of the wintertime extends to a distance of 2,800 km. What makes this trip even more impressive is that it was the young vulture’s first long-distance journey! The ongoing monitoring efforts of the vulture are possible thanks to the BalkanDetox LIFE project. In an innovative initiative, the project foresees to monitor all Griffon Vulture colonies in the Balkans to effectively track and prevent mass poisonings incidents of the species and other scavenging animals, as they would also act as sentinel species. To achieve this, the project needs to equip 25 Griffon Vultures with GPS transmitters and at the same time collaborate with different projects that tag Balkan vultures to utilize their data. 

BalkanDetox LIFE

The ‘BalkanDetox LIFE‘ project aims to strengthen national capacities to fight wildlife poisoning and raise awareness about the problem in Balkan countries. It is a five-year endeavour with a €1.8 million budget, which aims to raise awareness and strengthen national capacities to fight the problem of wildlife poisoning across Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, the Republic of North Macedonia and Serbia. It received funding from the EU’s LIFE Programme, and it is co-financed by the Vulture Conservation Foundation, the MAVA Foundation and Euronatur, as well as by the Whitley Fund for Nature and Environmental Protection and Energy Efficiency Fund for specific actions. Project partners are the Vulture Conservation Foundation as the coordinating beneficiary, and the Albanian Ornithological SocietyAssociation BIOMBird Protection and Study Society of SerbiaFund for Wild Flora and FaunaHellenic Ornithological SocietyMacedonian Ecological SocietyOrnitološko društvo NAŠE Ptice and the Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania as associated beneficiaries. Furthermore, this project is based on Spanish best practice experience and counts with the support from the Junta de Andalucía and the Spanish Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge.

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