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Griffon Vulture Palina – an unhoped-for return!  

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Rescued as a juvenile under the nesting coastal cliff of the Kvaerner Islands, young Griffon Vulture Palina was released in September 2023 within the LIFE SUPport project in Croatia, together with three other young vultures. They faced many threats along their journey back into the wild, and unfortunately, three of them died. In December, Palina’s GPS transmitter went silent, and scientists assumed she was also dead. Months passed by until her signal reappeared on the radars. She is alive and well, and not far away from her last registered position.   

Griffon Vulture release on Cres Island, Croatia – LIFE SUPPort © BIOM

A rough beginning  

Palina’s story begins on the cliffs of the Kvarner Islands. Croatian Griffon Vultures are among the few colonies that nest right above the sea, on incredibly steep cliffs. This peculiar and picturesque nesting area poses a threat to vulture fledglings. It is not unusual for them to fall into the sea attempting their first flight, or to get stuck on the rocks underneath the cliff, too tired to fly back to the nest. Palina was one of these unlucky fledglings.  

Fortunately, her fate changed since she was rescued and rehabilitated, together with three other young vultures, by the Beli Vulture Recovery Centre on the island of Cres. They were found exhausted under the nesting coastal cliffs of Cres and Plavnik or rescued from drowning directly from the sea. Nursed back to health, in September 2023 they were declared fit to go back to their natural habitat. Each of the vultures took the name of one of the European volunteers who looked after them during their recovery: Palina, Colina, Lima, and Anton. The four vultures were equipped with GPS transmitters to collect data about Griffon Vultures’ behaviour and distribution within the LIFE SUPport project led by the BIOM association.  

Unexpected threats along the way

Palina, Colina, Lima, and Anton split up almost immediately after their release. The data registered thanks to the GPS transmitters helped scientists follow their journey and identify the threats that determined their fate.

Lima crossed the Adriatic Sea and made it to Italy. Griffon Vultures normally do not fly over the sea. They need warm air currents generated on land (thermals) to cover long distances. She crossed Italy, reaching the Calabria region where she unfortunately collided with power lines. Electrocution and collisions with power lines are among the biggest threats to this species. At the beginning of November, less than two months after her release, Lima’s transmitter signalled her death. 

Anton flew southeast towards Bulgaria, but his fate was similar to Lima’s. His transmitter showed no movements, and the Bulgarian team found him dead. He also probably died colliding with power lines. His body, like Lima’s, has been sent for an autopsy.  

Coline flew south, reaching Greece in just two weeks. Sadly, her GPS transmitter showed unusual movements compatible with sea currents. Scientists believe she drowned in the Ionian Sea. 

Never say never  

Palina also moved southeast. She flew over the Balkan Peninsula for about three months and crossed the Bosphorus. In December, the team lost the signal from her transmitter. Considering the fate of her companions, she was proclaimed dead.  

Palina’s story took an unexpected turn with the new year. Surprisingly, sixty days after we thought she was lost forever, her transmitter sent a signal from Turkey, not far from her last known position. She is alive and well, the last survivor of her group. After crossing the Dardanelles, she is now in Greece.  

Griffon vulture flying away in the sky of Cres Island, Croatia - LIFE SUPPort © BIOM
Griffon Vulture soaring – LIFE SUPPort © BIOM

International teamwork  

The stories of Palina, Colina, Lima, and Anton, with their unexpected turn of events, teach us powerful lessons. The first one is a lesson of hope. Conservation has its basis in hope and science: hope to see these majestic animals soar in the sky of Europe numerous like they were in the past and occupy their historical habitats; science to monitor them and create the conditions to see them thrive in the future.   

The second lesson is about collaboration. The Life SUPport project, led by the BIOM association, counts on several international institutions and partners. Moreover, as we have learned from these vultures’ stories, Griffon Vultures like to roam. It is only thanks to the collaboration between the Croatian, the Bulgarian, and the Italian teams that Lima and Anton’s fate has been determined. Their death will not be in vain. It will help scientists study how to reduce threats like collision with power lines and electrocution.  

The road to seeing Griffon Vultures thrive in Croatia and Europe is still a long one. Happy endings, like Palina’s, give us new energy to continue our collaborative efforts for vultures’ conservation. 

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