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LIFE RE-Vultures can now track the movements of two more juvenile Griffon Vultures

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Juvenile Griffon Vultures often reach Syria, Israel Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Yemen. (c) AtanasDelchev/BSPB

We will be able to track the movements of two more juvenile Griffon Vultures! The LIFE RE-Vultures project equipped two more juvenile Griffon Vultures with satellite transmitters this June. The vultures from the Eastern Rhodopes will now provide critical data on the distribution, migration and possible threats to the birds, helping us improve conservation actions of the species in the region.

Monitoring vultures under LIFE Re-Vultures

Tagging vultures require special skills – including cliff climbing (c) AtanasDelchev/BSPB

With the recent tagging of the two young Griffon Vultures, the total number of Griffon Vultures tagged under the LIFE Re-Vultures project amounts to 29 birds! The project also placed GPS transmitters on 26 Cinereous Vultures. In addition to the transmitters, the vultures were equipped with colour rings and numbered wing tags, which will enable easier and quicker identification.

Observing fantastic flights

Tagging young Griffon Vultures can provide great insights about their behaviour as they spend the first years of their lives wandering, sometimes embarking on long journeys and covering vast distances. Thanks to GPS technology, the project was able to witness the first Balkan Griffon vulture flying over 5,700 km from the Eastern Rhodopes to Southern Sudan.

Furthermore, the data collected so far reveals that both Griffon Vultures from Bulgaria and Cinereous Vultures from Greece pass through the Bulgarian-Greek border daily in search of food. Some of the Griffon Vultures travelled to distant and exotic destinations, surprising scientists and the LIFE Re-Vultures team.

During the last few years, the project witnessed exciting trips of the Rhodopes vultures. Juvenile Griffon Vultures reach Syria, Israel Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Yemen whereas Cinereous vultures generally lead more sedentary lives and their voyages are within the Balkan Peninsula. But there are some more adventurous Cinereous Vulture voyagers. Chrysoula is one of them. The young vulture flew over 3,200 km in 2019 within 17 days, crossing through Serbia, northern Macedonia, Albania and reaching Athens.

Sad reality

The dead Griffon Vulture from lead poisoning (c) BSPB

Tracking technology also demonstrates that about 70% of the young vultures don’t reach maturity. In just 2019, three Cinereous Vultures in the Greek part of the Rhodopes have been the victims of poisoning. The incidents occurred near the borders of Dadia National Park in Greece, where the only colony of a Cinereous Vulture on the Balkans is located. In mid-April, a Griffon Vulture with a tracking device was also found dead, this time due to lead poisoning – an overlooked threat.

Poisoning is vultures’ biggest threat

The Vulture Multi-species Action Plan (Vulture MsAP), co-developed by us here at the Vulture Conservation Foundation, and endorsed by the Convention for Migratory Species (CMS), concludes that poison is the biggest threat to vultures worldwide and a significant part of this global action plan for vultures focuses on the actions needed to fight this threat. Furthermore, the Vulture MsAP is a global strategic blueprint identifying priorities and actions to conserve 15 species of old world vultures, approved in the conference of the parties of the Convention for Migratory Species, which states that poison with poisoned baits (often against predators of livestock) is the main threat to vultures worldwide.

In Europe, the VCF is actively pursuing different lines of work to fight this threat, among which is the Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project, funded by the MAVA Foundation. The project is working and funding local partners in five counties (Croatia, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Greece) to try to eradicate this illegal and highly damaging practice.

LIFE Re-Vultures

Starting in 2016, the five-year LIFE RE-Vultures project was developed by Rewilding Europe, in collaboration with the Rewilding Rhodopes Foundation the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of BirdsWWF Greece, the Hellenic Ornithological Society and us here at the Vulture Conservation Foundation. The aim of the project is to support the recovery and further expansion of the populations of Cinereous and Griffon Vultures in the cross-border region of the Rhodope Mountain by improving natural prey availability, monitoring movements of birds to help understand the threats they face and carrying out activities that will reduce the mortality of the populations from threats such as illegal wildlife poisoning and collisions with electricity infrastructure.

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