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Most vulture mortality cases in the Douro between 2015-2019 related to illegal wildlife poisoning

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Inspecting the remains of poisoned Egyptian Vultures in 2018 © ICNF

The LIFE Rupis project, which started in 2015 and finished in 2020, aimed to implement actions to strengthen the Egyptian Vulture and Bonelli’s eagle populations at the Douro that borders Portugal and Spain. It aimed to tackle the most critical threats to reduce mortality, including mitigating the threat of illegal wildlife poisoning. The data collected within the project scope confirms that most mortality and incapacitation of vultures in the Douro between 2015-2019 were related to suspected poisoning.

Combating wildlife poisoning with LIFE Rupis

In northern Portugal, birds like vultures are typically secondary victims of poisoning after ingesting toxic substances directed towards other species, namely stray dogs, foxes and wolves. One of the bird species most affected by poisoning in the Douro include the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) and the Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus).

Canine anti-poisoning unit funded through the LIFE Rupis project © ICNF

Before the launch of LIFE Rupis in 2015, data in Northern Portugal suggested a decrease in poisoning cases over the years. However, with the start of the project and more precisely establishing the anti-poisoning dog unit in 2017, the project team detected that the number of suspected poisoning cases increased. Therefore, the trend decline was probably not due to a decrease in the use of poison baits, but to a lack of identification of cases in the field.

Causes of death or incapacitation of vultures in the Douro between 2015-2019 

In the period 2015-2019, the LIFE Rupis project registered 40 animals that suffered from suspected poisoning, of which 16 were domestic and 24 wild (16 protected), amounting to many more cases compared to previous years. With regard to causes of death or incapacity among vultures, there were seven cases of poisoning, two deaths in powers lines, one shooting, one undetermined, one by natural cause and one from lead poisoning. This data concludes that most cases were in fact related to suspected poisoning. 

Regarding the toxic substances used, the project also identified poisons that have been banned in Portugal and Europe for years now, notably strychnine. Other substances included rodenticides, insecticides, molluscides and carbamates, in addition to carbofurans, which are also illegal. 

When a vulture carcass is discovered, it is important to perform necropsies and toxicological analysis to determine the cause of death, and therefore tackle threats more accurately. 

Learn more about this topic in the chapter “Combate ao uso ilegal de venenos no âmbito do LIFE Rupis” of the book “Estratégias De Combate Ao Uso Ilegal De Venenos Em Portugal.

LIFE Rupis

The LIFE Rupis conservation project, led by Portuguese wildlife organisation Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA), and funded by the European Union’s LIFE Fund and the MAVA Foundation, was working in the cross-border Douro region of Spain and Portugal to protect and strengthen the populations of Egyptian Vultures and Bonelli’s eagles. With around 135 breeding pairs, the region has one of the largest population of Egyptian Vultures in Europe. Creating a network of feeding stations, improving habitat and nesting sites as well as tackling the major threats of electrocution from electricity pylons and illegal wildlife poisoning, the LIFE Rupis project aimed to strengthen the population and improve breeding rates.

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