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The wandering Cinereous Vulture Riga returned home!

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Riga together with a potential partner during her second time wintering in southwest Greece, February 2020 (c) Dionisos Mammasis

The reintroduced Cinereous Vulture Riga that keeps surprising us with her movements returned to Kotel Mountain after 19 months of travelling. Riga is the third of the Cinereous Vultures reintroduced into Bulgaria as part the first stage of the Vultures Back to LIFE conservation project. After her release, Riga had many adventures in the Balkans and beyond, setting some impressive records. It was the first Cinereous Vulture to visit Croatia after 70 years of absence and the second to visit Albania in decades! The bird continued its travels ever since, and now returned home! 

The travels of Riga

Riga in the hacking platform in August 2018 (c) Stamen Stanchev.

Riga was released by the hacking method in the summer at Kotel in 2018 and is probably the most ‘adventurous’ reintroduced bird. After her release, she wintered in southwestern Greece during the autumn and winter months of 2018-2019. Later on, she summered in the Alps in 2019 and begun her autumn migration towards the Balkans, where she ended up wintering in the same region in Greece between 2019-2020. Now, Riga is back home to her release site.

Riga’s movements between August 2018 to April 2020

This is a great success, considering that she was close to getting poisoned in Greece. She escaped death in February 2020 during a mass poisoning incident that killed at least eleven Griffon Vultures in the region, causing a heavy blow to the largest colony of the species in mainland Greece. Αt that time, she also had a local Cinereous Vulture suitor who probably stayed on the road in his native Eastern Rhodopes. On Friday 17 April, our BSPB colleagues observe Riga leaving the Eastern Rhodopes alone, where her candidate-partner likely invited her. It is unknown at this time whether he will come with her to the Eastern Balkan Mountains or whether she will go with him in the Eastern Rhodopes, or ultimately where exactly he is from. 

We hope that Riga will stay in the Eastern Balkan Mountains in the next year or two – having reached the age of maturity to start nesting in the area, which is one of the golas of the Vultures Back To LIFE project.

The importance of monitoring vulture movements

In their first few years, young Cinereous Vultures travel extensively, and these birds are no exception. The travels of these birds across countries illustrates that vultures know no borders and their successful conservation depends on the mutual actions of all countries across the region to tackle the threats they may face such as illegal wildlife poisoning. Through the VCF’s Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project, we are working across the region collaborating with wildlife organisations and governmental agencies from six different countries to work together to protect vultures. 

Cinereous Vultures in Bulgaria

The Cinereous Vulture was found everywhere in Bulgaria during the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. But due to habitat loss, the widespread use of poisons to combat terrestrial predators, agricultural intensification, lack of food resources, and deliberate shooting of individuals, the species was driven to extinction. The last proven breeding pair nest was recorded in 1993 in the Cold Well area, during an expedition by Green Balkans experts. The only natural colony of the Balkans species is located in the Dadia National Park, Greece, where often single birds were observed visiting vulture feeding sites in the Eastern Rhodopes, reaching both the Balkan Mountains and the Kresna Gorge. In 2015, the Vultures Back To LIFE project was launched to bring the species back to the country. 

Vultures Back To LIFE

Led by the wildlife conservation charity Green Balkans, with activities also implemented by the Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna, and bringing together partners from Bulgaria, Spain and Germany, Vultures Back to LIFE aims to reintroduce the cinereous or Eurasian black vulture to Bulgaria. The team will transfer and release around 60 birds, some from captive-breeding, but mostly coming from wildlife rehabilitation centers in Extremadura (Spain) into the wild in Bulgaria as well as creating supplementary feeding stations and improving populations of wild herbivores, improving the nesting conditions and creating artificial nest sites and tackling some of the major threats to vultures in the country such as insulating electricity pylons and illegal use of poison in the nature.

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