Two days ago, a juvenile Egyptian Vulture named Isabel disappeared while flying above Malta. Isabel played an important part in conservation actions that aim to boost the small remaining population of the species in Italy, and this troubling incident poses a significant blow to such efforts.
Isabel was a part of Italian conservation efforts
The Egyptian Vulture Isabel hatched at CERM Centro Rapaci Minacciati Association this summer as part of an ongoing captive breeding programme. Less than a month ago, Isabel was one of the five captive-bred Egyptian Vultures released in southern Italy on 20 August 2021 as part of the EU-funded LIFE project LIFE Egyptian Vulture, which aims to save the very threatened Italian Egyptian Vulture population. Before its release, the project team equipped the vulture with a GPS transmitter provided by us at the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) to monitor its movements and behaviour.
Isabel vanished soon after it visited Malta
Isabel had arrived from Italy the same day and had been photographed during the day, but then at 19:44 emitted its last signal over the Dingli cliffs and then vanished from the radars. BirdLife Malta conducted searches of the area yesterday but did not find the vulture or the transmitter. All suggestions point out to a sad conclusion: Isabel was most probably illegally shot, killed, taken away, and the tag was destroyed.
Malta known as a hotspot for wildlife crime
It is well known that Malta is a hotspot for illegal shooting of protected species, but it is inconceivable that in the year 2021 rogue people are still allowed to shoot such rare birds with impunity. The VCF and CERM have immediately published an open letter to the prime minister of Malta to demand swift action to prevent further such incidents to occur.
Isabel the second Egyptian Vulture shot at in Malta this year!
Unbelievably, this is not the first Egyptian Vulture from the restocking project in Italy that was shot this year in Malta. Four of the five birds released this year in southern Italy started their migration to reach their African wintering areas. Two reached western Sicily, crossed the Sicily Channel and are now in Tunisia. The other two followed an eastern route and reached Malta. One arrived in Malta on 6 September, and we have credible information that this bird was shot at on 7 September, but luckily it was not killed. It flew away immediately and reached Libya some hours later. Isabela was not so lucky.
This serious environmental crime needs proper investigation
The shooting of these Egyptian Vultures is a major blow to the conservation of the species in Italy and elsewhere. There are only about 1600 pairs of Egyptian Vultures in Europe and a maximum of 10 pairs in Italy. Unfortunately, our joint efforts to protect the last Italian Egyptian Vultures are jeopardised by the reckless attitude of Maltese poachers, which also compromise Malta’s legal obligations under the EU Birds Directive. Let’s hope authorities there act swiftly!